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Depression is a mood disorder characterized by both physical and psychological symptoms that can be detrimental to one’;s normal daily functioning. Depressed individuals often suffer from poor sleeping habits, crying spells, anxiety, worry, poor memory, inability to concentrate, body aches, stomach disorders and a lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed. In most cases, the treatment involves antidepressant and / or counseling.
So can Acupuncture help with low mood and depression? A recent study on acupuncture in the treatment of major depressive disorder shows that acupuncture could be a safe and effective treatment for depression, even when standard antidepressant medications are not viable, giving hope for the thousand of people suffering from depression every year.
Firstly, it is worth to note that Chinese medicine does not recognize depression as an illness as such. But it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual to restore balance within the person, addressing at the same time body, mind and emotions.
As a general rule, Chinese Medicine associate depression with Deficiency and 2 organs, the Heart (the organ associated with Joy) and the Spleen (the organ associated with being grounded and content, or its opposition worry). Quite often, there is also involvement of the Liver (the organ associated with stress) so not only people are feeling bad but they can also experience more stress!
Once the patterns (diagnosis) are determined, the acupuncturist can select a combination of points which are specific to that individual. The practitioner can also advise on dietary changes and lifestyle changes.
This can include gentle exercise such as yoga to help move the Qi in the body, finding an activity that the person finds pleasurable to nourish the heart or ensuring that the person follows a simple, easy to digest diet to support the Spleen.
As a general rule, it is better to stick to a diet with few raw vegetables / fruits as they put more strain on the digestive system and ensure that about 20 ~ 30% of the diet is made of protein. Reducing the amount of wheat and dairy products can also be beneficial.
Because depression is usually associated with deficiency, avoiding excesses is best! So extremely strenuous exercises are out and so is going to bed after midnight. Alcohol should be avoided too.
Finally, certain acupuncture points have been shown to affect areas of the brain known to reduce susceptibility to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety and worry. This can probably explain why so many patients find acupuncture treatment in itself so relaxing (a lot of people actually fall asleep during the treatment!) But also goes a long way to explain how it can support someone through depression