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Acupuncture and Depression


Posted by Joe Downer |  | Posted in Acupuncture.

Depression is more than sadness. The condition often lasts for months, and along with severe sadness are feelings of hopelessness and unimportance. Depressed victims often are unable to carry on their normal daily lives.

Conventional treatments for depression

Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are the most commonly offered treatment options by medical doctors and psychotherapists. When these prove ineffective, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), hospitalization or a residential treatment program may be recommended


Most commonly prescribed medications are antidepressants, categorized by how they act in the brain to change one’s mood. The most common drugs used have some effect on serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine.  Others act along other pathways to lift mood or to sedate.  Sometimes these drugs are combined.

Most of these have severe side effects including one or more of decreased sexual desire and delayed orgasm, digestive problems such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, jitteriness, restlessness, headache, insomnia, increased sweating, dry mouth, fast heart rate, constipation, seizures, blurred vision, and confusion; and the FDA mandates a black box warning about suicidal thoughts or behavior in young adults, children and adolescents.

Finding an effective drug can be difficult since certain genetic conditions will affect how an individual’s body uses antidepressants.


Psychotherapy (talk therapy, counseling or psychosocial therapy) seeks to bring the depressed patient a better understanding of their condition so that they can explore relationships and experiences, identify and make changes in unhealthy behavior or thoughts, find better ways to cope and solve problems, and set realistic goals for their lives. Through this therapy the patient eventually regains a sense of happiness and control in their lives, and this helps to ease depression symptoms of hopelessness and anger.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

In ECT, electrical currents are passed through the brain. This procedure may be recommended for very difficult cases, and for pregnant women or the older adult.  How it works still is not well understood.  Confusion for varying periods of time after treatment are common.

Hospitalization and residential treatment programs

Depression that is so severe requires hospitalization or residential treatment programs.  Treatment practice varies according to the philosophy of the program the facility emphasizes.

The role of acupuncture in treating depression

How acupuncture affects depression is thought to be similar to the mechanisms by which the prescribed drugs work, BUT without the side effects.  Thus, acupuncture can be a therapy of choice as well as a complement to conventional drug therapy.  In addition, acupuncture may be able to reduce some drug side effects.

Reuters Health quotes Hugh MacPherson, the lead author of a recent study from the University of York in the UK: “For people who have depression, who have tried various medical options, who are still not getting the benefit they want, they should try acupuncture or counseling as options that are now known to be clinically effective. This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps.”


SOURCE: PLOS Medicine, online September 24, 2013.



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