San Francisco Acupuncture for Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Kristen Sparrow, MD; San Francisco Acupuncturist
How can acupuncture possibly help anxiety? How can needles make me feel better?
When I first opened my practice in 1998, one of my first patients was a young mother with anxiety attacks when driving, especially when crossing a bridges. Her heart would beat rapidly, she’d get sick to her stomach, and have to pull over once she was over the bridge, or exit if she was on the freeway. She was otherwise perfectly healthy and had no mood issues besides the anxiety attacks. She fit into a specific pattern in Chinese Medicine, and after a few treatments she was much, much better, the anxiety attacks went away. This and other cases fascinated me and that is when I got interested in acupuncture and the stress response and have been interested in the autonomic nervous system and acupuncture ever since.
If you have anxiety, depression, or stress issues you are not the only one. Anxiety is one of the most common issues I treat in my practice.
It is estimated that between 70-80% of all visits to physicians are for stress related illnesses.
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
Although stress affects us all in one way or another, it is when it becomes prolonged that it tends to cause the most problems, and prolonged anxiety issues can wreak havoc on your life, your sleep and your general outlook. How can acupuncture help? Research studies (see below) confirm what acupuncture patients have observed. The treatment itself is relaxing, and there is often a feeling of calm, and control, afterwards. Though this can be beneficial in and of itself, it may be key in how acupuncture helps the body to heal itself, improve mood, and to increase longevity. Often patients are able to give up their anti-depressants and pain killers. though that is not required.
Another of my patients says,
“I was having trouble driving on the freeway. I often would start to get sick to my stomach and nervous. I had heard a lot about Dr. Sparrow and so finally went to see her. Once I had a few treatments (she uses tiny needles on me since I’m so sensitive) I started to feel much better and my symptom went away. I go and see her now every week because it has been so helpful and I feel so much better in so many ways.”
Acupuncture has been shown to decrease the stress response (see 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.
What you need to know about Dr. Sparrow before making an appointment…
- Dr. Sparrow has been practicing acupuncture for 16 years and is Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pediatrics.
- She has studied acupuncture and stress for years. She published a study on the stress response and its correlation with acupuncture’s effectiveness in the Journal of Medical Acupuncture
- There are many benefits to acupuncture treatment, improved sleep, improved immunity, better mood, less illness which make the cost of $275 ($225 for seniors) for four visits a very good value.
- She has a keen interest in her patients, prevention, health matters and the research behind acupuncture’s effectiveness. You can follow her blog here.
- Please call (415) 775-0117 to set an appointment.
If you would like to learn more about stress, acupuncture and health, please read on…
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 aging 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.
How would stress affect me? Why should I care about it?
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 aging. It has been shown has shown that stress can cause accelerated aging in the hypocampus, an area in 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 aging 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 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.)
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.