You may have gone through a period of anxiety and depression in your life or witnessed someone close to you suffer from one or both of these illnesses. As such it may not come as a surprise to you that anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders.

Many people use the conventional medication options to treat these illnesses, but there are those who find that medication does not work well for them or that they do not tolerate it well. Hence, they look for alternative treatments. Gradually acupuncture and other complementary therapies are proving to be legitimate treatments for anxiety and depression. It is important, however to consult a doctor when you seek treatment for your depressed mood or anxious thoughts.

What is Acupuncture?

The Chinese introduced acupuncture to the world as a traditional form of medicine. According to Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by correcting imbalances in the flow of energy (Qi) via channels called meridians.

It is held that five elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal) affect the internal organs. In acupuncture the practitioner inserts needles into specific points in the body (skin) that are believed to correspond to specific organs, in order to correct energy blocks and return the organs and the body to a balanced state.

As it is believed that the mind and body interact as one, the emotions are thought to elicit a physiological response. The five elements (that influence the internal organs) are linked with five emotions: Water (fear); Wood (anger); Fire (happiness); Earth (worry); Metal (grief).

Thus, by correcting and balancing the physical, through acupuncture, it is thought that you can also balance the emotions. Western research suggests that the needles used in acupuncture may activate natural painkillers in the brain.

Depression and Anxiety defined

‘Depressive episodes’ may be classified according to the number of symptoms that are present. When fewer symptoms are present the depression is labeled mild; when many symptoms present themselves the depression is severe; in between there is moderate depression.

Diagnoses defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) include single episode or recurrent major depressive disorder (APA, 2000). A major depressive disorder is defined as depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for at  least 2 weeks.”

Anxiety may be defined as a “‘persistent feeling of dread, apprehension and impending disaster or tension and uneasiness’”. The term ‘Anxiety disorders’ is a general term used to refer to different conditions such as: panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety, traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition.

Acupuncture Improves Working Memory and Reduces Anxiety

In a study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, in October 2013, it was found that students who were privy to a 20-minute acupuncture session presented less anxiety and better memories (directly after the acupuncture) than students who did not have the acupuncture.

The study which aimed to investigate whether acupuncture can improve memory and reduce anxiety involved 90 undergraduate university students. The students were randomly divided into two groups.

All of the students completed the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) form Y-1 (State Anxiety, SA) and Y-2 (Trait Anxiety, TA). Each student then lay on a treatment table for 20 minutes. The acupuncture group had needles inserted into select acupoints. The control group of students did not receive any acupuncture treatment. All of the students then completed the STAI form Y-1 again. (After which they completed a computerized test of working memory).

It was found that the students who received the acupuncture had lower anxiety and improved working memory.

Acupuncture Can Be As Effective As Counselling In Treating Depression

A new study headed by Hugh MacPherson from the University of York in the UK, has found that people with depression may gain benefit from acupuncture to the same extent that they gain benefit from counseling.

Researchers found that one in three patients were no longer depressed after three months of acupuncture or counseling. One in five people, who received neither treatment, showed no signs of depression after three months.

775 people suffering from moderate or severe depression were recruited for the study. 302 were randomly assigned to receive 12 weekly acupuncture sessions; 302 received weekly counseling sessions and 151 received usual care.

People did not have to stop taking their medicine in order to participate in the study. Approximately 70 percent of people had taken antidepressants in the three months before the study.

The average depression score, on a scale from 0 to 27 was 16 at the start of the study. 16 is considered moderately severe depression.

At the end of the study (after three months) people in the acupuncture group had an average score of approximately 9; the counseling group had an average score of about 11 and the usual care group had an average score of around 13. Nine is on the higher end of the mild depression category. Eleven and 13 are considered indicators of moderate depression.

Thus, the people who received acupuncture or counseling improved to greater extents over the course of the study than those who received no treatment.

Previous studies that looked at depression and acupuncture have been inconclusive. “Clearly acupuncture is a new option,” MacPherson said.  “This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps.” 

Summary

Acupuncture appears to hold a lot of promise for those suffering from anxiety and depression. If you or someone you love is suffering from anxiety or depression, then acupuncture may prove to be very beneficial. Given that these illnesses touch so many people it is comforting to know that acupuncture could bring hope and a new lease on life to many sufferers.

Always remember to consult your healthcare professional if you experience depression or anxiety symptoms.

Featured photo credit: hikrcn via shutterstock.com

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