A very interesting article was published on the BBC web in July 2009 with regards to psychoactive drugs – drugs that alter the mental state. These drugs are used among others in the treatment of depression, but the public has been largely misled in how they work. The public have been made to believe that anti-depressants rectify an imbalance in the brain’s serotonin levels. However, it is now clear that in many people who suffer from depression, the serotonin levels are normal, so there is an alternative reason for the deficiency. The drugs then simply mask this deficiency by ‘dulling’ the thoughts and emotions. Very interesting read, and a compelling case for the use of alternative medicine such as acupuncture, which tackles the underlying cause.
‘The myth of the chemical cure’

My article published in the D-UK Newsletter, January 2009:

Acupuncture in the Treatment of Depression

In recent years, there has been an increased interested in both self-help and complementary therapies and acupuncture is among the most popular therapies. Acupuncture originated in the Far East and has been practised there for over 3,000 years. Its benefits have been carefully documented along the way and there is a long history of use for mental-emotional disorders. With one in four people being susceptible to some form of mental health problems in the course of a year  the use of acupuncture may help reduce the severity of the depression and number of sufferers.

Acupuncture and depression

A report by the World Health Organisation, published in 2003 concluded that depression was among the conditions for which acupuncture was proven – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment.

Acupuncture gives an individualised treatment to an individual problem like depression. Although depression in Chinese medicine is said to primarily stem from a stagnation of energy, the clinical symptoms and reasons behind the illness vary greatly. It is naturally easier to find a way back to health by understanding the path that led to illness in the first place. Therefore accompanying factors such as medical history, use of anti-depressants and physical symptoms also need to be taken into account when formulating a diagnosis.

Acupuncture very successfully addresses the physical symptoms which often accompany depression. These include digestive problems (IBS, constipation or diarrhoea), headaches, palpitations and insomnia. Because acupuncture is a holistic therapy these can be addressed at the same time as the mental-emotional aspect of the disease.

Among other things acupuncture can help treat are anxiety, smoking cessation, drug addiction, hypertension, menstrual problems, and pain in general. The pain relieving aspect is the most recognised part of acupuncture in the West. Acupuncture is therefore widely used by doctors and physiotherapists as well as traditionally trained acupuncturists for that particular purpose.

Acupuncture and anti-depressants

Acupuncture does not interfere with the effectiveness of anti-depressants. It can however serve as an adjunct to drug therapy.

  • Firstly, when an initial course of anti-depressants is started, a person may be advised by their GP that the drugs will take up to eight weeks to take effect. Acupuncture can be a great help during this adjustment period.
  • Secondly, acupuncture may be helpful in reducing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms once treatment is stopped.
  • Thirdly, acupuncture can serve as an alternative therapy in mild cases of depression.

If you are taking anti-depressants and are considering altering your dosage or stopping altogether it is strongly advised that you consult your GP before having acupuncture. Although acupuncture may be helpful for withdrawal symptoms, acupuncturists are not qualified to give advise on medication and should never interfere with your primary care.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture works to rebalance the body’s energy, which is said to flow in pathways around the body. It may therefore calm an anxious, overactive person whilst invigorating someone suffering from depression or lethargy.

The key to acupuncture lies in the diagnosis. The therapist will not only ask detailed questions around your current health and wellbeing, but also look at the complexion, skin colour, body tone, posture and tongue and feel your pulse. The tongue and pulse are a vital part of unlocking the reason behind a person’s illness. They often reveal things that the patient did not link into their symptomatic picture or did not believe to be relevant. The reader can explore this at home by comparing their own tongue with someone else’s and in most cases they will notice a difference in shape, colour and coating among other things. All these bear clinical significance and act as pieces to the puzzle that ultimately becomes an illness.

What to expect

What sets acupuncture apart from many treatment modalities is the time the practitioner takes for personal care and attention; an element, which seems to have been largely forgotten in our fast-pace modern society.

Once the practitioner is satisfied with their diagnosis, they will formulate a treatment protocol and point prescription to suit the individual. The needles are gently tapped through the top layer of the skin to avoid any pain. Acupuncture is commonly thought to be a painful treatment but that is rarely the case. This association most likely stems from the association with syringes, which in real life bear very little resemblance to acupuncture needles. Patients frequently report a sensation of a dull ache or a tingling sensation, followed by deep relaxation or an energy boost.

Bibliography

Acupuncture Research Resource Centre. Depression, Anxiety & Acupuncture – The evidence for effectiveness. Briefing paper 9. Retrieved 11 November 2008 from the British Acupuncture Council website

British Acupuncture Council. Introducing acupuncture. Retrieved 17 November 2008 from the BAcC website

Smith, C.A. & Hay, PPJ. (2004). Acupuncture for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, issue 3. Retrieved from the Wiley InterScience database.

WHO Acupuncture and the NIH Consensus Study (2003). Retrieved 17 November 2008 from the Acupuncture-Schools.us website: