Acupuncture May Help Depression



A new study finds acupuncture to be highly effective in treating depression.


 

ACUPUNCTURE MAY HELP DEPRESSION

At least 1 in 10 Americans have been afflicted with major depression at some point in their lives, and some studies suggest that as many as 1 in 5 Americans have experienced significant depression before.  At any given time, an estimated 7 percent of adults in the United States are suffering from major depression.  (For reasons that are not entirely clear, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with major depression.)  In view its very high incidence, it is not surprising that major depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people between the ages of 15 and 44.

There are a variety of potentially effective therapies available for depression including, primarily, cognitive therapy (i.e., meeting with a therapist for counseling) and antidepressant medications.  However, in view of the limited coverage made available for cognitive therapy by health insurers, there has been an increasing reliance upon antidepressant medications in the U.S. for many years.  While many of these medications can significantly reduce the signs and symptoms of major depression, they are often associated with significant side effects, and as many as half of all patients with severe chronic depression will fail to respond to most such medications.

A newly published prospective randomized controlled study from England suggests that acupuncture may be as effective as cognitive therapy and antidepressant medications as a treatment for depression.  This study appears in the online journal PLOS Medicine.

In this study, 755 patients with documented chronic major depression were randomized to one of three different treatment groups: acupuncture, cognitive therapy (counseling), and “usual care alone.”  (The latter group, which also included the use of antidepressant medications, served as the “control group” for this clinical study.)  All patient volunteers were subsequently reassessed with validated diagnostic tests throughout the 12-month course of this clinical study.

On average, the patient volunteers who participated in this clinical trial underwent 10 acupuncture sessions and 9 counseling sessions.  Compared to “usual care,” there was a statistically significant decrease in depression-associated symptoms in both the acupuncture and the counseling groups at 3 months and at 6 months after the start of this clinical study (by 12 months, however, the patients in the “usual care” group had improved to a level comparable to the acupuncture and counseling groups).  To summarize, acupuncture and counseling were each found to be highly effective in reducing the severity of depression-associated symptoms in patients with moderate-to-severe depression, and both were actually found to be more effective than the “usual care” (including antidepressant medications) received by the control group of patient volunteers at 3 months and at 6 months. 

This small study suggests a potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of major depression, and should stimulate additional research in this, and other, non-pharmacologic therapies for depression, particularly given the minimal risks associated with acupuncture in otherwise healthy patients.  However, if you are already taking antidepressant medications, and you are interested in trying acupuncture as a treatment for depression, please do not stop taking your medications without your doctor’s approval, as doing so could result in a worsening of your depression!

 

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According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.


Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  Over the past 12 months, more than 3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious readers.  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 


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Chronic Anxiety and Depression Significantly Increase the Risk of Early Death




 

A large new study suggests that chronic anxiety and depression are associated with a higher risk of premature death than was previously appreciated.


 

 

CHRONIC ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE RISK OF EARLY DEATH

As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, most previous research studies have suggested only rather weak links between chronic stress and cancer risk, although there is some data linking chronic depression with breast cancer risk.  However, in view of the increasing number of people around the world who are currently experiencing chronic anxiety and depression during these economically and geopolitically troubled times, the findings of a new public health study that psychological distress significantly increases the risk of premature death from serious illnesses, including cancer, is concerning.  This new study appears in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

Altogether, 68,222 adults in Great Britain were followed for an average of more than 8 years within the prospectively conducted Health Survey for England study.  All of these study participants were clinically free of serious physical illness when they first joined this very large public health study.  All of the participants in this study were assessed for psychological stress using a validated assessment questionnaire, which was administered in their homes by research staff.  Subsequently, the incidence of serious physical illnesses during the course of this study was then correlated with the degree of measured psychological distress.  The rather dramatic findings of this large prospective public health study illustrate the magnitude of the impact of chronic, severe stress on our bodies, including the risk of premature death due to stress-associated physical illnesses.

After adjusting for preexisting serious physical illnesses, lifestyle-associated risk factors for serious illnesses, and socioeconomic factors known to be linked to chronic, serious illnesses, this study still identified a highly significant increase in the risk of premature death associated with the extent of psychological distress among volunteers in this very large study.  When the “psychological distress score” was compared with death rates, having a score of 1 to 3 (compared to a score of “0,” which reflects no evidence of psychological distress) was associated with a 20 percent increase in the risk of premature death.  A psychological stress score of 4 to 6 was associated with a 43 percent increase in the risk of early death, while a distress score of 7 to 12 was associated with a whopping 94 percent increase in the risk of premature death when compared to study volunteers who were without evidence of any significant psychological distress!

Upon further analysis, death due to cardiovascular disease and other non-cancer causes increased significantly, and proportionally, with each increase in the psychological distress score.  Cancer-associated deaths also increased with rising psychological distress scores, although this association was only observed among volunteers with significantly elevated distress scores.  However, for non-cancer causes of death, the risk of premature death was significantly elevated with evenmild increases in psychological distress.

The potential impact of this study’s findings are highly significant, as they not only reveal a “dose-dependent” relationship between stress levels and the risk of premature death from serious physical illnesses, but the sheer magnitude of the impact of high levels of chronic anxiety and depression on the risk of premature death is much higher, potentially, than has been observed in previous and much smaller studies.

Although this study was not designed to identify the biological mechanisms whereby prolonged periods of increased psychological distress lead to early death, numerous prior studies have shown that chronic depression and anxiety can directly activate an inflammatory response in humans which, in turn, is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, infection, and cancer, as well as other chronic, serious illnesses.  It is also well known that chronic anxiety and chronic depression increase the likelihood of unhealthy behaviors that have also been linked to serious, chronic illnesses, including smoking, excess alcohol or other drug intake, unhealthy diets, and lack of exercise, in addition to other unhealthy behaviors.  What is especially unique about this new study (other than its sheer size), however, is that the researchers were able to identify and adjust for preexisting unhealthy behaviors among the study’s volunteers when they analyzed the study’s data, which increases the likelihood that the adverse effects of chronic anxiety and depression on the risk of premature death observed in this research study are actually a direct result of psychological distress rather than unhealthy lifestyle choices.

If you are experiencing high levels of chronic stress, and if you are frequently anxious or depressed, then please seek help from your personal physician or a mental health professional.  If you are thinking of harming yourself, or someone else, then please seek immediate help.  These are very trying times for many people, and the ongoing worldwide challenges that have provoked such high levels of stress do not appear likely to disappear any time soon.  Knowing that so many other people around the world are also feeling worried and chronically stressed can make each of us feel less alone in our distress.  However, sometimes the awareness that others are experiencing similar levels of distress is, by itself, not enough to ease our anxiety or depression.  So, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, and especially if you are feeling alone and isolated at the same time, then please seek the help and support of others.  In the vast majority of cases, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness will eventually pass when you get help and support during dark times in your life.


 

For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 




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Depression After Childhood Abuse May Be Linked To A Specific Gene







 

A new study suggests that a variant of a recently discovered gene may double the risk of lifelong depression after childhood abuse.


 

 

CHRONIC DEPRESSION AFTER CHILDHOOD ABUSE MAY BE LINKED TO A NEW GENE

The age-old debate about “nature versus nurture” has become increasingly complicated as we continue to learn more about the impact of individual genes on our risk for various illnesses.  While it has become widely accepted that specific genetic patterns may predispose some of us to a very high risk of certain physical illnesses, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, the potential linkage between specific genes and the risk of mental illness has been less clear.  At the same time, however, it has long been known that some mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, tend to run in families, which suggests that there may be at least some genetic component to these illnesses.

Over the past 5 years, fundamental new research has begun to suggest that certain genes may indeed be associated with an increased risk of specific mental illnesses.  However, most mental health experts believe that having a specific form of a gene linked to mental illness does not, by itself, mean that an affected individual faces a 100 percent risk of developing a mental illness.  Getting back to that “nature versus nurture” debate once again, it appears that having a genetic variant associated with a specific mental health illness probably predisposes an affected person to develop that particular mental health disorder, but does not guarantee that this will happen.  More specifically, an individual person’s experiences and environment during early life (i.e., the “nurture”) appear to have a significant impact on whether or not genes associated with an increased risk of mental illness (i.e., the “nature”) will actually lead to the development of mental illness.

Now, a newly published clinical study provides strong evidence that a specific form of a single gene can significantly increase the likelihood of major depression in adults following physical abuse during childhood, while another variant of this same gene appears to decrease the risk of chronic depression in similarly abused adults.  This intriguing research study appears in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

This new research study was inspired by previous research with laboratory animals that identified a network of neurons in the brain that use chemicals called endocannabinoids to communicate with each other.  (If the word “endocannabinoid” sounds vaguely familiar, it is because these naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain also have counterparts in the plant world, most notably in cannabis, or marijuana, plants!)  Previous research has also suggested that the endocannabinoid system in the brain may play an important role in adaptation to stress, including the moderation of our mood following stressful events.

In this new study, two groups of patient-volunteers were included.  The first group consisted of 1,041 young adult female twins in the United States, while the second group consisted of 1,428 Australian adults known to be addicted to heroin. (An additional 506 Australian volunteers without heroin addiction participated in this study as the control group for the heroin-addicted volunteers.)  The presence of depression, and in particular, depression with anhedonia (a term that indicates the inability to enjoy experiences that most of us find pleasurable), was assessed among all of these patient-volunteers.  The absence or presence of a history of physical abuse, by a parent or caregiver, during childhood was also evaluated.  Testing of the gene which codes for the human endocannabinoid receptor in the brain was performed on all of these research volunteers, as well.

The findings of this study were highly significant.  Not surprisingly, the study volunteers who reported having experienced significant childhood physical abuse had a much higher incidence of depression when compared to those volunteers who did not experience physical abuse as children.  Among the volunteers who had experienced significant physical abuse during childhood, a single, specific variant of the endocannabinoid receptor gene appeared to be highly protective against anhedonic depression when compared to volunteers who possessed the more common variant of this gene.  Specifically, only 29 percent of abused volunteers with this less common variant of the endocannabinoid receptor gene experienced anhedonic symptoms, while 57 percent of the previously abused volunteers with the most common form of this same gene were found to have symptoms of anhedonic depression.

The findings of this study strongly suggest that certain naturally occurring variants of specific genes may either increase or decrease the risk of mental illness (and in the case of this clinical study, major depression with anhedonia) following stressful experiences earlier in life.  Not only do this study’s findings suggest a method of screening patients who might be at significantly increased risk for major depression following stressful events in their early lives, but the linkage of a specific gene within the brain’s endocannabinoid system with depression following traumatic childhood experiences may someday allow for a more effective treatment for post-traumatic major depression, using medications targeted at the specific genetic variation that leads to this increased risk of depression following childhood trauma.


At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.

 

For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 











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