Depression is a major problem in the United States. It is the most common mood disorder and is described by some as the “common cold” of psychology. Depression affects an estimated 8 million Americans and is the main cause of suicide.
Antidepressant drugs (such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin) work by maintaining serotonin levels. Serotonin, an important neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting information from one nerve cell to another, has been referred to as the brain’s own mood-elevating and tranquilizing drug. Serotonin has been linked to depression and the lower the levels are, the more severe the consequences. People who have attempted or committed suicide have been shown to have very low levels of serotonin.
Antidepressant drugs can be effective; however, the side effects can be serious. Acupuncture is a safe alternative in fighting depression.
Acupuncture and Depression
In one study, it is suggested that acupuncture increases and prolongs the activity of serotonergic neurons in the pathway of the brain.
Unlike antidepressant drugs, acupuncture treats the root cause of the imbalance (caused by external stress) instead of just maintaining serotonin levels. Treating the root cause allows the body to handle stress better and maintains balance more effectively in times of stress.
The human body has several hundred acupuncture points (acupoints) that connect to meridians (channels of energy). These energy channels run through all parts of the body which affect a particular organ or other part of a person. Energy channels regulate the flow of an energy force called qi (also spelled “chi”).
When a person becomes depressed, energy channels become blocked, prevents the flow of qi, and causes an imbalance. Acupuncture is believed to fight depression by reopening the channel and restoring the flow of energy when needles are inserted over the appropriate acupoints.
Acupuncture is one of the most researched modalities in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Recently, acupuncture was shown to be an effective treatment in reducing the severity of the disease in individuals with depression.
Studies on acupuncture versus antidepressant drugs have shown acupuncture to be just as effective as drugs. However, acupuncture was also helpful in treating insomnia and decreasing anxiety symptoms.
Participants in one study were followed up six months after receiving eight weeks of acupuncture. Relapse rates with acupuncture were comparable to other empirically validated treatments.
Some findings about the efficacy of acupuncture and depression show mixed reviews and encourages further research to truly understand the benefits. Acupuncture holds promise as a cost-effective alternative to individuals who reject traditional treatment, show no response to traditional treatment, or are unable to take antidepressant drugs when fighting depression.
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