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Is acupuncture beneficial in depression

Depressive disorders are one of the more common psychiatric disorders in adults. Symptoms associated with depression generally include fatigue, depressed mood, and a decrease of interest in people or activities. Other symptoms may include sleep difficulties, anxiety, irritability, poor concentration, and poor appetite.

The most common conventional treatments for depression, such as antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, are well researched and known to be efficacious. However, their effectiveness is always reduced by lack of effect in some individuals, intolerable adverse effects, and high rates of dropout. This reality drives patients and also researchers to search for other modalities of treatment in an attempt to further improve outcomes .

In recent years, acupuncture, which was long used for emotional, psychological, and spiritual disorders including anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression in China, Japan and Korea, has become a subject of major interest and one of the most popular complementary therapies in the West.

On human body, there are more than 2000 acupuncture points connecting with 12 main and 8 secondary pathways called meridians, which conduct energy - qi - between the surface of the body and the internal organs. Qi regulates spiritual, emotional, and physical balance. The opposing forces of yin and yang influence qi. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when yin and yang are balanced, they work together with the natural flow of qi to help the body achieve and maintain health.

Acupuncture is believed to balance yin and yang, keep the normal flow of energy unblocked, and restore health to the body and mind. Present interpretation of the treatment effect of acupuncture on depression is that acupuncture stimulates afferent Group III nerve fibers that transmit impulses to various parts of the central nervous system and induce the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, substance P, dopamine, b-endorphin, enkephalin, and dynorphins, primarily in the hypothalamus. This suggests a direct influence on the pathogenic mechanisms of depression (Ulett et al., 1998, Colbert, 2000, Zhang et al., 2006, Shi et al., 2006, Siedentopf et al., 2005).

Otherwise, building evidence implicates a role for the plasticity of specific neuro-circuitry in both the pathophysiology and treatment of depression. Electro-acupuncture could reverse the decreased level of cyclic AMP responsive element binding protein (CREB), a molecule playing an important role in neuronal plasticity, in cortex, hippocampus and hypothalamus regions in rat depression model, which may contribute to the treatment effect of acupuncture (Husseini et al., 2001, Nair and Vaidya, 2006, Lu et al., 2006).

Compared to conventional treatment, several potential advantages are associated with acupuncture, such as its low cost, relatively few complications, and possibility of a personalized treatment.


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