acupuncture helps depression: cytokines

*HOW* acupuncture helps depressed patients

depression-acupuncture-cytokines
Recent research discovered that depression is not only psychiatric condition – it has a physiological manifestation in the brain. Scientists found that depressed patients have higher levels of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins which have an ability switch on inflammation in your body. These proteins can turn the brain into sickness mode – feeling down, lethargic, sleepy.

Acupuncture effective treatment for depression

This scientifically justified therapy showed promising results in patients who are diagnosed with depression, and especially, in patients with treatment resistant depression. Recent systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that acupuncture combined with antidepressant medication is effective, has an early onset of action, safe and well-tolerated over the first 6-week treatment period. Moreover, this treatment combination appears to result in greater therapeutic efficacy than SSRI therapy alone.

How acupuncture helps and why you should consider it

Previous experimental studies found that acupuncture can reduce cytokine levels in chronic headache patients. Research on rodents has shown that it can reduce cytokine levels in the brain.

One of the ways how acupuncture regulates your body is through the vagus nerve. This important nerve connects the organs with the brain. Via the Vagus nerve acupuncture can directly reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. And long term treatments can increase levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines. To achieve this benefit you need 3 or more months of regular treatment. This is not only beneficial for depression. Inflammation has been linked to heart disease, increase risk of cancer, affect your sleep, it makes it hard to lose weight, increases bone loss, damages your gums… Reducing inflammation can benefit your health significantly.

Currently there are a few theories explaining the therapeutic effects of this time-tested therapy for depressed patients. Cytokine theory is one of the most promising theory explaining how acupuncture treats depression.

Transcranial current stimulation

There are a number of new studies on transcranial direct current stimulation and on transcranial magnetic stimulation. The newly discovered benefits of these therapies include pain relief, treatment for major depression, cognitive enhancement (including speeding up learning, creativity enhancement, and improving mathematical abilities, etc.).

Are these new transcranial therapies really novel? The treatment seems to be strikingly similar to scalp electroacupuncture, which has been used safely and effectively for decades.

We have numerous studies supporting scalp acupuncture for treatment of conditions such as

Acupuncture is much cheaper compared to transcranial therapies

  • US$300 is a cost of a typical transcranial magnetic stimulation session
  • NZ$70 (US$57) cost of a typical acupuncture session in New Zealand

As brain mapping techniques are becoming more accessible and we’re getting a better understanding of the human brain. This opens opportunities to design new treatments for numerous other conditions with electro-acupuncture, transcranial current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The image: mapping of the White Matter fibers

Acupuncture for post-stroke depression

Depression and anxiety after stroke are common and affect about a third of stroke survivors. While acupuncture to help stroke recovery has been well researched and recognised, specific studies to show acupuncture to treat post stroke depression are not as abundant. Researchers from China have searched the studies to perform an analysis and review.

They discovered that almost all of the studies compared acupuncture to using of antidepressant medications, and that acupuncture was as effective as medications, but with fewer side effects and adverse reactions.

Obviously at the early stage of the disease most of the post stroke patients will have a difficulty to travel to an acupuncturist to have treatments. But those who are lucky enough to have an acupuncturist travel to their hospital to help their stroke recovery, should remind acupuncturist to take their mental state into account when designing a treatment plan.