Acupuncture is currently being studied as a complementary treatment for bipolar disorder. Some researchers believe that it may help people with bipolar disorder by modulating their stress response. Studies on acupuncture for depression have shown a reduction in symptoms, and there is increasing evidence that acupuncture may relieve symptoms of mania also.
Bipolar disorder is sometimes called Dian Kuang by the Chinese, where Dian is the depression part of the cycle and Kuang is the agitation part. However, the term does not translate to the Western idea of bipolar disorder precisely.
Developed in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture focuses on promoting the flow of energy from the surface of the body in towards the organs. This energy, or Qi, is critical to not only spiritual health, but also to emotional, physical, and mental balance. The manic phase is characterized by stagnation of Qi, phlegm that clouds the mind, fire that harasses the mind and causes mania, blood stasis that obstructs the mind, and yin deficiency. The main organs involved are the liver, heart and spleen.
One of the most interesting medical articles on the treatment of bipolar disorder with acupuncture is from a book called The Psyche in Chinese Medicine in Chapter 19 called, ”Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depression) (Dullness and Mania Dian Kuang)”:
“The Chinese believe that the mind has to be cleaned of phlegm and then opened up in order to make a difference in bipolar disorder. In the chapter mentioned above, you’ll learn that there are specific acupuncture points that open up the mind.”
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 experience 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 illnesses, including bipolar disorder. Many hospitals now TCM acupuncture to treat many conditions, including Cleveland Clinic, UCLA, and Kaiser among others.
Some of the Acupuncture Points Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder
- Lung 3. This acupuncture point is good for those with bipolar disorder who are forgetful, sad, have insomnia, cry, and talk to ghosts.
- Large Intestine 5 and Large Intestine 7. This acupuncture point provides treatment for manic behavior, fright, inappropriate laughter and seeing ghosts.
- Stomach 25. This acupuncture point is for mania, schizophrenia, anxiety, and mental irritability.
- Gall Bladder 13. This acupuncture point is for fright and manic behavior.
- Gall Bladder 17. This acupuncture point is for manic behavior, obsessive thoughts, and pensiveness.
- DU 16. This acupuncture point helps treat suicidal thoughts, sadness and fear.
- DU 20. This point is used in the treatment of those who want to commit suicide, sadness and crying.
Interestingly, the treatment of bipolar disorder includes the treatment of points that are often used for ‘ghosts’. There are actually 13 different points in the body that may be treated in a person that sees ghosts, which is considered to be related to mental illnesses. The Chinese think that those with bipolar disorder believe they have had an invasion of ghosts.
Studies Prove Acupuncture Works
- Dr. 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.
- Wei Liu, LaC, writes in his advice article, Traditional Chinese Medicine for Depression, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that electroacupuncture—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.
IBPF (International Bipolar Foundation) published a blog post on their site talking about the effectiveness of acupuncture:
By Krystal Reddick
“A friend of mine is also an acupuncturist and noticed the change in my mood and behavior. She asked if I’d like to receive a treatment. Tired of feeling empty and tired of having random crying spells, I agreed. That was two years ago. I’ve been receiving monthly acupuncture treatments ever since.
While I was being treated for depression two years ago, I found the acupuncture to be a lot more effective at improving my mood than the medications I was on at the time. I actually felt normal and alive again after a session. But the catch is that the benefits only lasted three or four days. So I would not recommend foregoing all traditional, Western psychotropic drugs for acupuncture. In terms of the other concerns I was being treated for, I’ve found acupuncture to control my depression better than my mania, the weight loss and insomnia were hard to tell if they were being impacted since I’m on medication, but acupuncture has ended my headaches and nasal congestions pretty quickly. Like, during-the-session-quickly. However, please note that each person responds differently. And depending on your condition(s), it might take longer to treat.”
Here are some additional resources that discuss acupuncture as it relates to bipolar disorder: