Acupuncture has been shown to be at least as effective as drugs in treating anxiety and depression. It has a range of mechanisms that work to this effect. It is safe to use in the long-term, avoiding any drug-related side-effects. On top of this, it is safe to use along-side said drugs. It is also useful for related symptoms, such as stress, lethargy, headaches, migraines and pain.
About Anxiety and Depression
Approximately 25% of people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem each year. The majority of these cases are anxiety or depression. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disability in the world. Anxiety and depression can be vary dramatically in effects and duration with some getting debilitating of not dealt with. They can come with a mix of other symptoms including; insomnia, irritability, poor concentration, sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, palpitations, aches and pains, shortness of breath, lassitude, low self-esteem, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and migraines and even suicidal thoughts.
Stressful events often trigger anxiety and depression, such as; bereavement, illness, relationship problems or financial difficulties. Anxiety and depression can also come secondary to another to chronic illness, such as cancer, or other conditions, including, insomnia and chronic pain.
There tend to be two types of treatment approaches for anxiety and depression, namely drugs or therapy. The former has mixed results in both the short-term and long-term and can result in a variety of side-effects including; drowsiness, dizziness, slurred speech, trouble concentrating. Long term use can lead to addiction and neurotoxicity. The later, therapy can have good results in the long term if the condition is a result of psychological trauma, however, it can take a while to build up such effects and is not always as useful if the anxiety or depression is secondary to physical conditions such as chronic pain or chronic illnesses.
Acupuncture for anxiety and depression
Acupuncture, on the other hand, has no long-term risks associated with it and has been shown, in a range of studies, to be safe. Acupuncture has also been shown to be at least as, if not more, beneficial than conventional drug treatments for anxiety and depression. The World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture for depression and the more up to date, comprehensive review of acupuncture, from The Acupuncture Evidence Project recommends acupuncture for anxiety.
A recent systematic review for anxiety stated, ‘that acupuncture was an effective alternative therapy for generalized anxiety.’ It also noted acupuncture was as effective as drugs and safe. In the largest ever study conducted into acupuncture, The York study, acupuncture was found to be more effective than drugs, safe and cost-effective for depression.
There are also preliminary positive findings for treating chronic anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, substance misuse, eating disorders, hyperventilation, asthma, insomnia, post-stroke, musculo-skeletal pain and various other conditions where anxiety has been measured as a secondary rather than primary outcome.
How does acupuncture benefit anxiety and depression?
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit anxiety and depression by:
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry
- Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states
- Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
- Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety and depression
- Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry
- Some of the most recent research suggests that depression is associated with dysfunction in the way that parts of the resting brain interact with each other; acupuncture has been shown to be capable of changing the ‘default mode network’
Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects and reducing unwanted side-effects.