Study Finds Meditation as Effective as Drugs in Preventing Depression

Looking to avoid depression or the holiday blues? A recent study published in The Archives of General Psychiatry shows that once the depression had been treated, meditation could be used in place of drug therapy. The medications can be discontinued rather than staying on Prozac or Paxil ad nauseaum. I know this is terrific news as I often have patients telling me they do not like taking drugs, esp. staying on them long term. I have many blog posts about meditation and depression you can look at for alternatives to drugs in order to stay happy.

I recently read an interview with a well known Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh about integrating one’s mindfulness practice into daily life to be happy. His ideas illustrate how the study participants were able to be free of depression and medications.

Chinese Medicine is also quite effective in treating emotional disorders: anxiety, depression and more advanced psychiatric conditions. We use a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to address these problems. Acupuncture has well known benefits of reducing stress and releasing endorphins, those ‘feel good’ biochemicals responsible for the runners high. Often my patients comment after a treatment about how stressed they felt coming in and how much better they feel after.

We use herbs rather than drugs to treat all manner of clinical complaints, including mental-emotional problems. Chinese medicine does an individualized pattern diagnosis. This means that rather than giving everyone with the same complaint the same treatment or herbal formula, we look deeply at the individual nature of each person, and customize the treatment. We call this approach pattern diagnosis.

There are many patterns responsible for psychiatric conditions, too many to name them all here. I would like to describe a couple of common patterns responsible for depression.

Liver Qi Stagnation is a big one, common in our western culture for those under stress. In Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for circulating qi (energy) through out the body, through the channel or meridian system. When we get stressed or tense, we tighten up, and the qi stops flowing. This stuck qi often leads to a physical depression, causing stomach/bowel problems (acid regurgitation, IBS), gyn problems (cramping, moodiness) and hypertension because the qi is not circulating or moving through the organs. Liver patients are irritable, stressed and often have a physical problem in addition to anxiety, depression, insomnia and other emotional problems.

Another common pattern of depression is Yang deficiency. Yang is our body’s heat and activity: qi (energy) is yang in nature. When yang is deficient, one feels cold easily or has cold feet. Cold causes qi to slow down, heat causes qi to quicken up. Think ice and boiling water – ice moves at a glacial pace, boiling water has volcanic action. Cold in the body causes qi to slow down in the body, causing a physical depression, which can lead to a mental depression. In this case, the person feels cold, complains of a lack of motivation, just wants to curl up in a ball and retreat from the world.

Once we diagnose the pattern (or combination of patterns involved) we customized the acupuncture point prescription and Chinese herbal formula. A common herb for treating liver qi stagnation is mint. Drinking mint tea is beneficial as it moves and circulates the liver qi, responsible for the qi stagnation. For yang deficiency, warming spices are important to use: cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, fenugreek and cloves.

The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs is effective in treating mental emotional disorders,and I have successfully gotten many patients off medication. This 2007 study reported on in Psychology Today shows a 50% effectiveness for acupuncture in treating depression. Adding herbal therapy and customizing treatments in private practitioners’ offices dramatically increases effectiveness. As a control, studies pick one to 3 protocols, and give them to all participants. Practitioners do much more customization of treatments exponentially increasing efficacy. Dr Allen, the study’s author notes in Psychological Science, the precision of needle placement allows for treatment of individuals’ personal symptoms—a flexibility drugs just don’t offer. KB

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