With so many Americans suffering from mental health disorders, the FDA estimates that sales of antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac and Zoloft, reached over $10 billion in 2005. About half the people who seek treatment for depression are not helped by psychotherapy and medication or withdraw from treatment too early. Of those who recover, more than one-third relapse within eighteen months. In a study of 2,318 patients conducted by the University of Colorado, only 20 percent of the patients taking medication were found to improve as a result. This suggests that alternative treatment may be very helpful for people who suffer from depression.
Acupuncture and Mental Illness
To help alleviate depression, more and more Americans are turning to age-old holistic modalities such as Chinese medicine. “Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine, is a very popular way to help individuals relax and re-energize. It can help with conditions such as anxiousness, depression, insomnia, tense muscles, headaches, and pain; all things many of us experience”, said licensed acupuncturist and American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic dean, John Kolenda. The College’s low-cost Community Clinics have treated patients with mental illness since the 1980s, and see upwards of 17,000 patient treatments each year.
According to Kolenda, many patients report an enhanced sense of well-being and a deep feeling of relaxation after acupuncture or massage treatment. These modalities alleviate stress and depression symptoms by releasing endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers, and improving the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids which bring fresh oxygen to body tissues. This increased oxygen flow eliminates waste products from inside the body and enhances recovery from diseases. Acupuncture and massage also decrease the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, reduce the heart rate, and relax muscle tissue. “One of the reasons acupuncture and massage are so popular is because they provide health benefits that are also free of side effects when performed by a licensed professional”, Kolenda said.
This 3,000-year-old gentle modality provides a safe, effective alternative to controversial antidepressants and treats the symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as the root or underlying cause of imbalances in the body. Depression is most commonly caused by a blockage of Qi (or, vital energy) in the body. It is Qi that regulates spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance. Blockages of Qi can be caused by many factors such as physical trauma, emotional trauma, inherited weakness of Qi, poor diet, or chemical, physical and emotional stress. Acupuncture keeps the flow of this energy unblocked, and because Chinese medical practitioners treat patients as individuals, they consequently treat the true source of the depression instead of just prescribing pills.
According to recent studies, acupuncture is a valuable adjunct therapy for those suffering from mental health disorders. A study conducted at the University of Arizona examined the responses of 34 depressed women to acupuncture, generalized acupuncture that didn’t use specific points, and no treatment at all. Of the women who received acupuncture specific for depression, 43 percent experienced a reduction in their symptoms, compared with 22 percent who received general acupuncture and 14 percent who received no treatment. After eight weeks, over half of the women who received specific acupuncture were no longer depressed.
Other studies verify these findings. Holly Middlekauff, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA, and a team of investigators presented their research at the American Heart Association’s 2001 Scientific Sessions conference, which showed that acupuncture can block sympathetic nerve activity. Twenty-two advanced heart failure patients (both men and women, average age of 43) were used in the study. Blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nerve activity – which regulate a person’s heartbeat and is also responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response – were measured in each patient immediately after subjecting them to four minutes of anxiety-producing situations. Results showed that sympathetic nervous system activity increased approximately 25 percent as a result of mental stress.
After the test, the researchers divided the patients into three groups. The patients received either authentic acupuncture delivered for 20 minutes at established acupuncture points; sham acupuncture delivered at non-acupuncture points; or no-needle acupuncture, in which the patients were told they’d receive acupuncture but were in fact only tapped by a needle holder on the back of the neck. The mental stress test was repeated after the acupuncture treatments, with the same measurements taken at the conclusion of the second test. While patients in the sham and the no-needle group experienced the same increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic nervous system activity after taking the second test as they had after taking the test the first time, patients in the authentic acupuncture group showed no increase in sympathetic nervous system activity.