Category Archives: Depression
In this short article, I shall explain something about what to expect when you seek acupuncture treatment for depression. In a survey of over 9000 acupuncture patients in the UK, 11% of them were presenting with psychological complaints; in many practices, depression represents a significant portion of this category. Additionally, the 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study (1), found that depression was the third leading cause of disability internationally. It is thus a common problem, and about two-thirds of adults will at some time experience depression severe enough to interfere with their normal activities.
Should you decide to come for acupuncture, some of the most important aspects I shall be interested in learning about first are whether you have a history of depression previously, when and how it began (eg. identifiable events or disproportionate reactions thereto), and how it affects your daily life (eg. ability to work, family and social relationships etc). Your wider health is enormously important too: do you feel the depression is a reaction to the burden of chronic pain or to limitations imposed by some other medical problem, or might it even stem from medication used to control that problem? Did it arise out of chronic stress, from say work, a difficult relationship or caring for elderly relatives?
Have you had depression in the past which now seems to have recurred in response to a new health problem, a recent significant life event, or stressful circumstances? Perhaps you are only in your twenties, have studied hard for a job, but are now disenchanted by it and feeling trapped by student loans. Is there any link with hormonal changes such as being pre-menstrual or peri-menopausal? Oestrogen levels fall at these times, in turn reducing serotonin levels.
Looking more widely still, I am interested in the full array of other symptoms which accompany your depression. These can encompass fatigue, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, appetite or weight changes, or feelings such as irritability, anger, anxiety, panic or guilt. I can then begin to re-frame the picture of your health from a Chinese medical perspective, and devise a plan of treatment. If it is practical, we can try to directly help obvious causes of your depression, such as stress or chronic pain. In other cases, the causes do not lend themselves to such an approach, in which case we just try to tackle the depression. Lifestyle advice can often be a particularly useful part of treatment: in Chinese medicine, the health of our physical body is considered important for our mental and spiritual health too. This gives our shen or spirit, a good home in which it can settle happily rooted.
Rest assured, acupuncture can safely and effectively be used alongside other interventions like counselling or anti-depressant medication.
Please do contact me if you would like to discuss anything further. Below you will find the results of recent research, some into acupuncture for depression, and some which hints at worthwhile self-help measures: scientists at the University of Bern for example, published a paper(2) confirming the benefits of exercise for patients with depression.
(1) Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015, page 1552.
(2) Effects of Exercise on Anxiety and Depression Disorders: Review of Meta-Analyses and Neurobiological Mechanisms. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets, 2014.
A pilot study undertaken in Japan shows acupuncture can significantly help medication-resistant depression and improve autonomic nervous system function. Thirty in-patients received either true acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Treatment was given by the application of small, low-profile press needles for 72 hours. Compared with sham acupuncture, the true acupuncture patients showed significant improvement in depression scores, blood pressure and measures of vagal nerve function. The authors suggest that the latter may be associated with the therapeutic mechanism behind acupuncture’s effect on depression.
(Acupuncture-induced changes of vagal function in patients with depression: A preliminary sham-controlled study with press needles. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, online 6 July 2015.)
A study from Oregon State University in the US suggests a relationship between low levels of vitamin D, and depression in otherwise healthy young women. Those with lower levels of vitamin D were more likely to have clinically significant symptoms over the course of a five-week study. The results were consistent even when researchers took into account other possible explanations, such as time of year, exercise and time spent outside.
A lot of past research has found no association between the two, but much of that research has been based on older adults or special medical populations.
This study focused on young women in the Pacific Northwest because they are at risk of both depression and vitamin D insufficiency. Researchers recruited 185 female college students, aged 18-25, to participate in the study at different times during the academic year. Vitamin D levels were measured from blood samples and participants completed a depression symptom survey over five weeks.
As expected, the women’s vitamin D levels depended on the time of year, with levels dropping during autumn, reaching their lowest in winter, and rising again in the spring. Depression did not show as a clear pattern, prompting the team to conclude that links between vitamin D deficiency and seasonal depression should be studied in larger groups of individuals. They say the study does not conclusively show that low vitamin D levels cause depression, and a clinical trial examining whether vitamin D supplements might help prevent or relieve depression is the logical next step to understanding the link between the two.
(Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Journal of Psychiatry Research, 30 May 2015.)
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have concluded that at six month follow-up, patients with psychological distress, and treated with either acupuncture or integrative care (acupuncture alongside talking therapy), show more long-term benefit than those given conventional care. Patients were drawn from four GP practices across western Sweden, and comprised 120 adults aged 20 to 55. Primary diagnoses were: depression (30%), anxiety or panic disorders (20%), severe stress (20%), somatic symptoms/pain (20%) and sleep disorders (10%). Acupuncture was given once each week for eight weeks.
Both acupuncture and integrative care were more effective than conventional care, in reducing anxiety and depression whilst improving quality of life. The researchers say their results are in line with earlier findings suggesting the effectiveness of acupuncture for anxiety and depression.
(Six-month effects of integrative treatment, therapeutic acupuncture and conventional treatment in alleviating psychological distress in primary care patient – follow up from an open, pragmatic randomized controlled trial.
BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 30 June 2014.)
A pragmatic randomised controlled trial conducted by the Medicines Research Group at the University of East London, has found that patients with depression benefit more when they receive acupuncture in addition to taking SSRI antidepressant medication. (SSRIs include citalopram, fluoxetine, Prozac and seroxat.) A total of 76 patients were randomly allocated to one of two groups: one group was given an SSRI but also received acupuncture, whilst the other group was only given the SSRI. Baseline depression scores for the two groups were 22.2 and 22.1 respectively.
After the first week of treatment, the depression score in the acupuncture group had dropped to 15.6, compared to 18.3 for the second group. This significant difference was maintained to the end of the six week trial, when scores were 6.3 for the acupuncture group, and 8.2 for the drug-alone group.
(Acupuncture combined with an antidepressant for patients with depression in hospital: a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, 29 April 2014, epub ahead of print.)