Acupuncture for Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Kristen Sparrow MD, San Francisco
How is it possible that Acupuncture can help Depression? Don’t I need medication?
Acupuncture calms you down, decreases your stress and can actually help your brain chemistry
Studies have shown electroacupuncture can decrease changes in the brain associated with depression. Acupuncture was shown to lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression in the elderly and the young. And in menopausal women acupuncture lessened their stress profile and relieved depression.
Medications can cause other problems
It is finally recognized that antidepressants can lead to significant weight gain and are hard to stop without significant mood changes. There are many who feel that they are no better than a placebo.
Although stress affects us all in one way or another, it is when it becomes prolonged that it tends to cause the most problems.
Prolonged stress can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of other problems. Acupuncture has been shown to decrease the stress response(more studies below). Stress inherently affects every system in the body from proper digestion and cardiovascular health to the daily functions of the endocrine and immune systems. There are thousands of research articles on the correlation between chronic stress and many diseases.
It is estimated that between 70-80% of all visits to physicians are for stress related illnesses.
Call me 415-775-0117 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how and if I can help you. I will do my best to fit you in for an appointment. I know you have better things to do with your time than spending it in a doctor’s office, so I promise you to be punctual, efficient and attentive. Patients reach deep relaxation with acupuncture, so can you.
How are stress and depression related?
If you stress a lab rat, it will take a stronger electrical current than expected to activate their sense of pleasure. Stress and elevated cortisol can have the same effect in humans; i.e. stressed, depressed patients have trouble feeling pleasure, or happiness. For example Patients with Cushing’s syndrome, a pathological surplus of the stress hormone, cortisol, have depression, as do patients administered cortisol-like hormones for treatment of various conditions. Depression is a result of, or a cause of alterations in the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (neurotransmitters in the brain, all linked to mood.) Cortisol can alter the levels of all three of these transmitters. Anti-glucocorticoids, (substances that compete with cortisol) act as anti-depressants in many instances.
This concept is in alignment with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine. If the spirit is not healthy, the body cannot heal.
Physical symptoms such as:
- Muscle Tension / Headaches / TMJ / Back Pain
- Cold Extremities / Tingling
- Heart Palpitations / Shortness of Breath
- Increased or Decreased Blood Pressure / Dizziness
- Sugar Cravings / Low Blood Sugar
- Decreased Immunity / Frequent Colds or Illness
Emotional symptoms such as:
- Anger / Aggression
- Anxiety / Panic Attacks
- Insomnia / Excessive Sleep
- Excessive Worry
- Indifference / Apathy
- Irritability / Moodiness / Involuntary Crying
What is the stress response?
There are two key elements in the understanding the stress response:
1) Cortisol, a hormone secreted under stress. This hormone becomes elevated under prolonged stress and can lead to increased pain, inflammation, depression, exhaustion, accelerated ageing and poor immunity
2) Sympathetic nervous system, which becomes activated in times of “fright or flight” goes into action during fright, fight, or flight. The “Parasympathetic” of the autonomic nervous system is involved in the restorative functions in the body.
For example, when we are startled by the growl of a dog, there is an almost instantaneous increase in heart rate, all senses are tuned in, and we’re suddenly full of energy and able to either run in a panic or fight off an attack. This is a result of the sympathetic nervous system. But this sudden surge of energy comes at a price. Energy is diverted from regenerative functions of the body. Functions that are not required in the short term for the “fight or flight” are suspended. No digestion, reproduction, or immune functions (why fight a cold if you aren’t going to live another hour?) are undertaken.
Why should I care?
So imagine if the sympathetic arm of the nervous system, and elevated cortisol are allowed to be turned on indefinitely. You would see myopathy and fatigue (from being in overdrive), hypertension (from cardiac stimulation), ulceration and digestive disorders(from digestion being a low priority), infertility, amenorrhea, decreased libido (from decreased reproduction), increased disease risk (decreased immunity), and neuron death (brain damage.) in fact, the above are some of the side effects of prolonged stress.
What is the evidence for stress and disease?
Effect of Stress on Longevity
Both of these stress responses (sympathetic nervous system and cortisol) are also implicated in accelerating ageing. It has been shown has shown that stress can cause accelerated ageing in the hippocampus, an area of the brain, because of elevated cortisol levels. A recent study by a San Francisco team has shown that stressed mothers (mothers of disabled children) showed advanced ageing on a cellular level compared to their non-stressed counterparts. (This concept is in alignment with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine. One attempts to balance one’s life to preserve their essence (jing) to prolong their life.)
Stress & Depression
If you stress a Lab Rat; it will take a stronger electrical current than expected to activate their sense of pleasure. Stress and elevated cortisol can have the same effect in humans; i.e. stressed, depressed patients have trouble feeling pleasure, or happiness. For example, Patients with Cushing’s syndrome, a pathological surplus of the stress hormone, cortisol, have depression, as do patients administered cortisol-like hormones for treatment of various conditions. Depression is a result of, or a cause of alterations in the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (neurotransmitters in the brain, all linked to mood.) Cortisol can alter the levels of all three of these transmitters. Anti-glucocorticoids, (substances that compete with cortisol) act as antidepressants in many instances.
This concept is in alignment with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine. If the spirit is not healthy, the body cannot heal.)
Effect of Stress on Immunity
It is fairly well established that stress can alter the immune response in animals and in humans. It alters T cell function and can alter the healing process. This can show up in a multitude of ways in the health of an individual. The most commonly measured entity is cortisol, which can become chronically elevated in persons under persistent stress. Acupuncture has been shown to lower cortisol in some studies. Chronic stress can be damaging to the organism because when of long duration, the response itself can damage the system.
Is there any proof that acupuncture actually lowers the stress response?
Besides Dr Sparrow’s own research showing that a decrease in stress response during acupuncture treatment correlates with successful outcomes there are the following studies:
- There was a study from Japan that showed that acupuncture decreased the cortisol secretion during surgery and in the postoperative phase.
- In Germany, they showed that needle acupuncture caused a calming of the sympathetic nervous system in-patients with minor depression or anxiety disorder.
- A Swedish study established that after acupuncture blood flow to the uterus increased and alleviated infertility due to a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity.
- In China, they showed that acupuncture calmed the sympathetic nervous system in drivers.
- In a prison psychiatric unit in Sweden, they showed that auricular acupuncture treatment lowered cortisol levels compared to the untreated group and the acupuncture group required fewer medications.