By Maura Hohman, Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
You might think acupuncture is for hipsters who don’t believe in Western medicine or for your aging parent with chronic back pain, but a growing body of research shows that acupuncture can help treat a condition that affects everyone from time to time: anxiety.
Managing severe anxiety can be tricky because it generally includes therapy, which might not provide results for months, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. What's more, it can require medication, which can have serious side effects, says Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, CRNA, LAc, a certified acupuncturist, a physiologist, and the assistant director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Yet when acupuncture for anxiety is effective, symptoms lessen after the first few visits, and practitioners like Eshkevari are confident it attacks the problem at its roots.
How Acupuncture for Anxiety WorksAncient Chinese medicine describes an energy force called Qi that regulates the body’s overall health, according to University of Chicago Medicine. Like blood in the circulatory system, Qi moves throughout the body via pathways called meridians. When factors like injury, stress, poor nutrition, or a change in environment disrupt the flow of Qi, health issues follow, according to the University of Miami Health System. By inserting needles at specific points in the body, acupuncturists restore the balance of Qi and the body’s overall health, University of Chicago Medicine reports.
This concept might seem outdated to some, but Daniel Hsu, DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), LAc, a practitioner at New York AcuHealth Acupuncture in New York City, says Qi is just a metaphor for metabolic function, or the chemical reactions constantly taking place in the body.
Acupuncturists insert each needle half a millimeter away from a nerve, Dr. Hsu explains. Depending on where the needles go, acupuncture can cause the nervous system to produce painkilling chemicals, jump-start the body’s natural ability to heal itself, or stimulate the part of the brain that controls emotions, including anxiety. All of these results, Hsu adds, can help people feel more balanced and treat a variety of illnesses.
The Mechanics of Acupuncture for Anxiety Management Hsu says acupuncture has increased in popularity since the 1970s simply because it works, and now there’s growing research supporting its effectiveness for anxiety and other mental conditions.
For instance, in a study published online in October 2013 in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, students who underwent a 20-minute acupuncture session were found to have less anxiety and better memory immediately afterward than those who didn't have acupuncture.
Why does it work? Eshkevari explains that external circumstances beyond your control can set off your anxiety and that acupuncture allows your body to take back control.
“We’re constantly under stress and pressure to perform, which can bring on disease and other serious health issues,” Hsu says. “Acupuncture is great for maintenance. It helps a long life become a better-quality life.”
How does it work? Led by Eshkevari, researchers at Georgetown University used lab studies to demonstrate that acupuncture slows the body’s production of stress hormones. Their findings were published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Endocrinology.
Few procedures work 100 percent of the time. That includes acupuncture, but it does have benefits that conventional treatments like psychotherapy and medication do not, Eshkevari says. She explains that side effects, such as bruising and dizziness, are minimal and uncommon, whereas some prescription drugs can have serious side effects and can lead to dependency.
Unlike with counseling, people treated with acupuncture often see results after one session, and the results improve with continued treatment. Hsu says acupuncture is particularly helpful for people who want to limit or stop drug use — prescription or otherwise. Because it regulates the body’s chemical balance naturally, acupuncture can even prevent people from needing medication at all, he says.
Getting Started With Acupuncture When it comes to trying acupuncture, you have nothing to lose, Hsu says. With a certified acupuncturist, the risks are almost nonexistent and are far outweighed by the potential benefits. The majority of Eshkevari’s patients have told her they sleep better and have a stronger sense of overall well-being after just a few sessions.
If you're already receiving treatment for anxiety, Eshkevari suggests adding acupuncture to your current regimen. If you decide it works for you, you can work with your doctor to wean off anxiety medication. First, though, contact your insurance provider to find out whether it covers any acupuncturists in your area. Then talk with a practitioner — ask questions and openly discuss a potential treatment plan.
By Mind Body Green
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. After a year of adjusting medications and supplements to control a heart rhythm condition in my patient, "Billie," she came in with a big smile and a bounce. In this case, she was the teacher.
We shared a holistic attitude to health but had been frustrated by the unpredictable heart racing, and on her own she had begun frequent sessions with an acupuncturist she was acquainted with. In just a short time she documented a reduction in the bothersome episodes, and after a few months she was enjoying over a 95% improvement.
Her experience led me to research the use of acupuncture more broadly for my patients and it is now part of my “tool box” for restoring health at a root cause level. Although more research is needed, there are five heart conditions that I have seen a response to with acupuncture therapy.
1. Angina pain
Angina is a choking, squeezing or pressure like feeling in the chest brought on by activity and quickly relieved by rest or a nitro tablet. It usually results from a large heart artery that's severely blocked, but many patients have apparently normal arteries on angiography, and disease of small arteries is also suspected.
The angina is the result of a lack of oxygen supply to active heart muscle cells. Perhaps by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system to the heart muscle (the fight or flight system), selected patients with angina respond to acupuncture with less symptoms and better ability to walk long distances.
2. Congestive heart failure
This potentially serious condition can result from a heart weakened by a heart attack or viral damage, but is often seen with strong hearts that relax inadequately. Research studies have shown improvements in the ability to walk longer distances without shortness of breath after acupuncture therapy, and I have seen similar results. Again, reductions in sympathetic nerve activity is the supposed mechanism.
Just as my patient Billie taught me, the heart is an energy organ with every heart beat controlled by a wave of electricity and recovery. Furthermore, while the heart is richly supplied by nerve fibers originating in the brain, it also has many nerve communications from the heart back to the brain. With every breath in, the heart rate should speed up subtly; with every exhale, it should slow down, something that can be measured as the heart rate variability, or HRV. The better your HRV the healthier you are.
Acupuncture has been shown to improve the HRV in humans. Furthermore, studies of various heart rhythm problems show promise for reducing or eliminating the distress of palpitations such as atrial fibrillation.
Overdrive of sympathetic nervous system plays a role in the rise in blood pressure that can damage kidneys, arteries, eyes and the brain. I have seen individual patients benefit from a lowering in blood pressure with a consistent practice of acupuncture, and the American College of Cardiology considers it a promising alternative therapy. The scientific literature is still divided as to how predictably acupuncture results in normal blood pressure.
5. Smoking cessation
Fortunately rates of usage have dropped but smoking is still the number 1 root cause of deaths due to heart disease and cancer. Acupuncture is one of the modalities that may help the nicotine addicted patient to successfully quit this habit. Over 3,000 patients have been studied in randomized trials of the role of acupuncture to quit smoking and most favor a positive effect.
I'm experienced with the use of needles to perform cardiac catheterizations and stent procedures, but have had the good luck of being taught the potential of acupuncture from my patients. Traditional therapies do not work for all persons, and some just prefer a non-drug and holistic approach.
I'm grateful that Billie explored an alternative approach of her own to reduce her palpitations. I plan to continue to explore the use of acupuncture and other Eastern practices, such as tai chi and yoga, in my treatment plans for patients. Maybe they can help someone you know, too.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Acupuncture relieves depression. Research published in the Journal of Science and Healing finds acupuncture safe and effective as an adjunctive therapy for the treatment of depression. The researchers concluded that “acupuncture was an effective and safe therapy in treating major depressive disorders.
Particularly, the qualities of sleep and life (involving emotions) in patients with depression and schizophrenia were found to be improved after acupuncture treatment.”
The research focused on the effects of manual acupuncture. Electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, and acupressure were excluded from the meta-analysis. The researchers note that the primary goal of the investigation was to “evaluate the effects of acupuncture treatment for patients with depression or schizophrenia through a systematic review.” The secondary goal was to assess acupuncture’s working mechanisms.
The researchers cite acupuncture’s ability to benefit sleep as an underlying mechanism for its effective therapeutic actions. The researchers cited Bosch et al. whose methodologies included the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index as a method of evaluation. Bosch et al. “found a significant improvement of sleep quality” from acupuncture treatments for patients with depression or schizophrenia. Additional research employing objective measures of sleep improvement, including actigraphs, demonstrated sleep improvements from acupuncture treatments in patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorders. The improvements include reduced activity levels during sleep, less night awake time, ability to fall asleep faster, and less daytime sleepiness.
The researchers note that another mechanism by which acupuncture exerts its effective action is its ability to benefit emotions. Several key studies identified acupuncture’s ability to reduce anxiety and improve mood. The Beck Depression Inventory and the Hamilton Rating Scale were employed in the studies for purposes of evaluation. The researchers note, “A reduction of depressive symptoms was found after acupuncture therapy in patients with depression. Moreover, less anxiety and a better mood were found after acupuncture therapy in patients with schizophrenia.”
The researchers note that acupuncture has beneficial effects that help to improve specific conditions of patients. Citing Block et al., the researchers note that “sleep was found to have been improved after acupuncture treatment in patients with schizophrenia; moreover, the patients with schizophrenia show less anxiety an an improved mood after acupuncture therapy.” The researchers add that studies demonstrate acupuncture’s ability to eliminate or decrease hallucinations with patients subsequently feeling “less disturbed.”
Acupuncture successfully reduces side effects from chronic consumption of schizophrenia medications. Acupuncture was found to reduce tardive dystonia. Involuntary movements “disappeared completely” and “the posture of the neck and body improved….” In an important finding, the researchers discovered that “a combined therapy of acupuncture and small doses of antipsychotics showed an efficacy equal to that for therapy using full doses of antipsychotics…..”
The researchers note that the default mode network (DMN) is “a system of brain regions that is activated during rest or during passive viewing tasks, but is deactivated when cognitive tasks are performed.” They add that, in cases of depression, there is “a failure to normally down-regulate activity within the DMN.” They note that acupuncture potentially regulates the DMN and consequently improves the conditions of patients with depression or schizophrenia. They also cite research demonstrating acupuncture’s ability to modulate and normalize effects on the hypothalamus and that acupuncture may also regulate the limbic system.
Bosch, Peggy, Maurits van den Noort, Heike Staudte, and Sabina Lim. "Schizophrenia and depression: A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness and the Working Mechanisms behind Acupuncture." EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing (2015).
Block B, Ravid S, Vadas L, et al. The acupuncture treatment of schizophrenia: a review with case studies. J Chin Med. 2010;93:57:63.
Bosch P, van Luijtelaar G, van den Noort M, Lim S, Egger J, Coenen A. Sleep ameliorating effects of acupuncture in a psychiatric population. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013:969032.
By Calm Clinic
Acupuncture represents a very valuable anxiety treatment. That's because acupuncture provides three separate benefits that are important to those living with anxiety:
Acupuncture is designed to be an immediate treatment. While not every acupuncture session provides complete and full relief right away, as soon as you leave the acupuncturist (and in some cases the next morning), much of your anxiety should be diminished. Compare this to long term treatments that generally require you to work on your anxiety a little at a time over a long period of time. For those with severe anxiety, that can be advantageous.
Reinforcement is also a serious problem for those with anxiety, especially panic attacks. With panic attacks, a person's fear of getting a panic attack actually causes a panic attack, which of course confirms the fear and makes it more likely to happen again in the future. Acupuncture, if effective, will reduce these thought processes completely, which in turn should reduce the potential for your anxieties to reinforce themselves.
Finally, while anxiety is a standalone condition, it doesn't create itself. Often you have other issues in your life that can cause you some anxiety or contribute to the severity of your anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture should help with those as well. For example, you may find that you become more anxious or on edge after you feel like your heartbeat has increased. Acupuncture could then help.
Posted: 03/16/2013 10:41 | Huffington Post
Good news, acupuncture fans: It really does help relieve stress.
And now, a new study is giving a closer look at why.
The new study explores the biological mechanisms involved in acupuncture's stress-relieving abilities, something science has yet to fully understand.
The researchers discovered that stress hormones were lower in rats that had received electronic acupuncture. Results were published in the Journal of Endocrinology.
"Many practitioners of acupuncture have observed that this ancient practice can reduce stress in their patients, but there is a lack of biological proof of how or why this happens. We're starting to understand what's going on at the molecular level that helps explain acupuncture's benefit,” study researcher Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, an associate professor of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, said in a statement.
For the study, Eshkevari and colleagues designed a series of tests with electronic acupuncture to ensure that each rat received the exact same dose of pressure. Eshkevari targeted the spot below the knee, or the “Zusanli” point, with the needle. This area is the same in rats and humans and it is reported that stimulating it can alleviate stress and other conditions.
For the 10-day experiment, researchers split the rats into four groups. One group was a control group with no added stress and no acupuncture; one group was made to be stressed out for an hour each day but didn't receive acupuncture; one group was made to feel stressed for an hour each day but received "sham" acupuncture by their tails; and one group was made to feel stressed and received the genuine acupuncture treatment at the Zusanli area.
The body secretes an assortment of hormones into the bloodstream as a reaction to stress, which the researchers were then able to measure in the rats. They assessed blood hormone levels secreted by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland -- together these are known as the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. They also measured a peptide involved in creatures' "fight or flight" responses, called NPY.
Researchers discovered that the "...electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway,” Eshkevari said in the statement.
Since stress has been linked with detrimental health effects includingheart disease and even brain shrinkage it’s important to study any measures to combat its detrimental nature.
The Huffington Post | By Kate Bratskeir
When you hear the word acupuncture, what's the first thought that comes to mind?
If the answer was "needles," you're not alone. Anecdotally speaking, it's pretty common for people to associate the traditional Chinese treatment with the supposedly scary, pointy, painful instrument used to perform the practice. In fact, I was one of them.
But needle-phobic or not, the fact is that more and more modern-day research has been linking this ancient practice to some serious health benefits. Proponents of acupuncture say it can relieve symptoms from a variety of conditions, including headaches, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and insomnia.
And the practice is continuing to gain momentum in the world of mainstream medicine, particularly as a secondary treatment to conventional medicine. According to Good Housekeeping,"Recent research from Germany has been positive, showing that adding acupuncture to standard medical treatment helps people with a wide variety of ailments." From menstrual cramps and runny noses to migraine headaches and asthma, acupuncture better healed the patients who were treated with regular care andacupuncture more so than those treated with regular care alone.
The exact mechanism behind the healing power of acupuncture isn't quite understood, though researchers have put forth several theories, including the idea that endorphins, the so-called "feel good" hormones are at work, that acupuncture works on the body's stress response system, or that some complicated placebo effect is at work, The Atlantic reported last year (for more theories on how acupuncture may work, click over to their story).
"We know it works, we just don't know why," Dr. Leena Mathew, an attending physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center told the publication. "It's very hard to translate into Western language."
So while the jury is still out as to exactly how acupuncture works, I was intrigued. And when I had the opportunity to try a session with with Christina Moores, M.S., L.Ac., a licensed acupuncturist in Long Island, I decided to go for it.
Moores and I started the session by discussing my medical past and family history, and decided together to try acupuncture on the front of my body. As for those dreaded needles? The truth is that, for the most part, they didn't hurt. A few times I felt some tenderness, which Moore said was either the contraction of muscles or a nerve being hit. It took about eight minutes to put all the needles in, and then I sat under a heat lamp for about 20 minutes -- at one point, it was so relaxing that I even fell asleep.
While this was just my first appointment, I left feeling rested, comfortable and definitely wanting to try it again.
"Everything has life and deserves great respect."