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Less Well-Studied CAM Remedies For Depression - B-Vitamins and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Scott Olson, ND

The following therapies are currently being studied to determine whether they benefit people with depression. These therapies are generally not harmful, but it is unclear whether they are truly helpful. There is some limited research on the effectiveness of these therapies, but study results do not allow us to suggest them as stand-alone treatments for depression.

B-Vitamins

B-vitamins, especially B1 (thiamin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin) have all been examined for their contribution to depression. These B-vitamins play many important roles in the body and are necessary for the manufacture of GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood.

Many studies on the effectiveness of using B-vitamins for treating depression are promising. However, many more studies must be conducted before concluding that these vitamins are effective in treating all types of depression. Research suggests that the B-vitamins tend to work well for depression related to a deficiency state (such as depression associated with alcoholism, or with poor nutrition) and for depression associated with premenstrual syndrome.

B-vitamins enhance the effects of many of the standard treatments for depression. Trials of standard antidepressant medications combined with B-vitamins indicated that people recover from depression more rapidly and often with fewer side effects when taking this combination.

The B-vitamins are water-soluble (dissolvable in water) and are easily removed from the body in the urine. They are generally considered safe, with little to no side-effects. However, megadoses (very high doses) of B6 (pyridoxine) have been associated with liver inflammation and nerve damage. It is best to take a multivitamin that contains many B-vitamins (such as a multi-B vitamin combination) or a separate B-complex supplement. Follow the dosing instructions on the vitamin label or consult with your health care practitioner.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe that human ailments result from a disruption in the body's energy flow. This disturbance produces negative effects on one's mind, spirit, and body. Treatments in this type of medicine center around herbal medicines and acupuncture designed to restore one's balance of energy flow.

Acupuncture literally means "needle piercing" and is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomic points for therapeutic purposes. There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points connecting with 12 main and eight secondary pathways called meridians, which conduct energy - chi or qi - between the surface of the body and the internal organs. Qi regulates spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance and is influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang.

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 balances yin and yang, keeps the normal flow of energy unblocked, and restores health to the body and mind. A Western interpretation of acupuncture is that the treatment stimulates the central nervous system, releasing chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, promoting the body's natural healing abilities. Acupuncture may also alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that positively impact mood. In addition to needles, acupuncturists also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or electromagnetic energy impulses to stimulate acupuncture points.

Acupuncture has shown some promise as a treatment for depression. The varied treatments (how the needles are used) and selection bias (only certain types of people are willing to try acupuncture) affect the results of research trials, making it difficult to determine if acupuncture will turn out to be helpful for all types of people with depression. The specific course and duration of acupuncture treatment depends on the nature and severity of depressive symptoms. A typical course of treatment might involve ten to twelve weekly sessions.