Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Bipolar Disorder

“I have two moods. One is Roy, the wild ride of a moon. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs. Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out. I try to think of it as my opportunity to be heroic – not the ‘I survived in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”  – Carrie Fischer, author, actress

“Finding out that it was called something was the best thing that ever happened to me. The very fact that there was a name for my emotions and that a professional could talk me through my symptoms was very liberating. There are amazing highs and very low lows. My goal is to be consistently in the middle.”  – Catherine Zeta-Jones, actress, singer, dancer

Acupuncture and Bipolar Disorder in Margate, Coral Springs FloridaBy Susan Tretakis – In both my professional and personal life, I have known people who, having been diagnosed as bipolar, tried to mask their symptoms in order to fit into the outside world. Bipolar treatment has, indeed, come far from when it wasn’t even acknowledged, just quietly medicated or hospitalized. Today, more and more people are beginning to have this very important dialogue about mental health.

“Bipolar disorder is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression because a person’s mood can alternate between the ‘poles’ – mania (highs) and depression (lows). The change in mood can last for hours, days weeks or months.”

Bipolar disorder is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness; in fact, the willingness of celebrities and their families to discuss their personal battles with the media show great strength.

Their strength strengthens us.

Most people who have bipolar disorder can identify their “highs” and “lows”. These swings can be severe, ranging from extreme energy to deep despair. It is the severity of the mood swings and how they disrupt ones normal life that distinguish bipolar episodes from ordinary mood changes.

Symptoms of mania include:

  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Heightened mood, exaggerated optimism, and self-confidence
  • Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
  • Racing speech, thoughts, and flight of ideas
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Reckless behavior

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Pessimism, loss of energy, persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Recurring thoughts of death and suicide.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Western medical treatment is directed at managing symptoms. Depending on the patients’ need, treatment may include medication, hospitalization and psychotherapy. Protocols for antidepressants, anti-psychotic and anxiety medications are constantly evolving, as are a variety of psychotherapy approaches, including, but not limited to, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation and family-focused therapy.

While knowing and respecting Western treatment for bipolar illnesses, it is worth the time to review how both Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help.

“One such treatment that is often used in conjunction with medication is Acupuncture.  Developed in China more than 2,000 years ago, Acupuncture focuses on promoting the flow of energy from the surface of our bodies in towards our organs.  This energy, or Qi, is critical to not only our spiritual health, but also to our emotional, physical, and mental balance. 

The proper balance can be restored with the help of several thousand different Acupuncture points that serve as a map to our primary and secondary meridians.  A practitioner can apply pressure along certain areas of the skin using a series of very fine acupuncture needles, clearing up any energy blockages and allowing the body to heal itself.  This ancient method of therapy has been shown to help bipolar patients better regulate their response to stress. 

Chemically speaking, Acupuncture treatment stimulates the central nervous system, releasing endorphins that bipolar patients may not produce in high enough quantities normally.  This process helps bipolar and depressed patients to enjoy a significant reduction in their symptoms of mania while following a regular course of acupuncture.”

Acupuncture has become more mainstream as an acceptable form of treatment for bipolar disease, as evidenced by the number of on-going studies:

  1. Tricia Suppes, a professor in the Psychiatry Department at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, began a formal study on the effects of acupuncture on bipolar disorder in 2001. The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. Results showed that over the course of 2 months, patients who received acupuncture with points specific to depression were able to lower their bipolar disorder medication doses when compared to patients who received a generalized acupuncture treatment.
  2. Wei Liu, LaC, in his advice article, Traditional Chinese Medicine for Depression, writes that many clinical studies have been performed to test acupuncture’s effect on mental health, and Liu claims that by the end of one such study, more than half the patients no longer met the criteria for clinical depression. Statistically, this means that acupuncture is just as effective as antidepressants.
  3. A new pilot study by psychologist John Allen of The University of Arizona in Tucson and Tucson Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer suggests that acupuncture may prove to be at least as effective in the treatment of depression as psychotherapy or drug therapy. The study was a double-blind study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine.
  4. In two studies from Purdue University, all bipolar patients who received eight to 12 weeks of acupuncture sessions (in addition to their usual medication) showed improvement in their symptoms. This was true regardless of whether they entered the study during a phase of depression or a phase of mania. Researchers reported in 2009 that acupuncture when used for either the manic phase or the depression phase is a safe, effective and acceptable treatment for bipolar disorder. They commented that the treatment targeted mood elevation or depression, that there were few negative side effects and no one dropped out of the study.
  5. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that electro acupuncture—in which a mild electric current is transmitted through the needles—was just as effective as fluoxetine (the generic name of Prozac) in reducing symptoms of depression.

 In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a fundamental aspect of any treatment for emotional disorders is treating the spirit. Treatment for emotional disorders from a spiritual perspective have the advantage of being free from the harmful side effects of drug-related therapy.

“In TCM, emotions are a reflection of the state of the Five Spirits. These are the Hun (the non-corporeal), the Po (the corporeal spirit), the Zhi (the will), the Yi (the intellect) and the Shen (the mind and connecting spirit.) The association between spiritual aspects and the organs is relatively straightforward in keeping with the concept of holism. Any disharmony of the organ may affect its associated spiritual aspect and, therefore, the emotions involved. Emotional disturbances may, likewise, affect the energetic qualities of the organs.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine is consummately holistic. The mind, body and spirit are inextricably linked. Changes in diet as well as daily habits may be suggested by the TCM practitioner.

In addition to acupuncture, Qigong, yoga, T’ai Chi, Tuī Ná, and Chinese herbology are all useful TCM-based modalities for addressing the spiritual components of emotional disorders. Meditation has many medical benefits, as well, and training increases efficacy. Patients with psychiatric diagnoses frequently benefit from these approaches either as stand-alone therapies or as adjuncts to other therapies.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine can work to help treat the many symptoms and underlying causes of bipolar disorder which currently affects nearly 7.7 million Americans or about 5% of the population. Although many people may joke about being “bipolar”, it is not funny to those who suffer from it and for loved ones around them. Through Acupuncture, dietary, herbal remedies, mind-body work and personal one on one connections with practitioners, Traditional Chinese Medicine offers many forms of healing.

Knowledge is power!

If you feel that you or someone you know may benefit from trying an holistic approach to any psychological condition, including bipolar disorder, please give The Acupuncturists of Margate, Coral Springs and Coconut Creek a call. Consultations are always free.

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