A study performed at the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine found that acupuncture restored brain connectivity and benefited patients with Major Depression Disorder (MDD).
In this study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the effects of acupuncture on the cortico-striatum region of the brain, which helps regulate motivations and rewards. The connections between this region of the brain with other parts of the brain were vastly improved, and patients showed lower scores on depression tests. Guangzhou University researchers came to the conclusion that acupuncture can regulate the reward and motivation circuitry in the brain and improve the outcome of depression scores in depressed patients.
Depression can start mild but develop into a toxic disease that affects functionality, personality and can even damage the brain. MDD, or Major Depressive Disorder, is a condition that affects a good portion of the population and causes challenges on an economic, social and personal level.
One of the characteristics of a depressive condition is called “anhedonia” which is the loss of interest in pleasurable activity and the loss of interest in pleasure altogether. It is the striatum of the brain in the basal ganglia, where we find the neurological reward circuit which allows the individual to anticipate pleasure and mediate motivations.
It is important to note that MDD is associated with the activities of cortico-striatal reward circuitry. This is the region that allows the individual to choose activities based on the rewards they desire and then have the motivation to enact these activities.
Those suffering from this condition are often prescribed antidepressants to counter the effects of MDD. But there is reason to believe that acupuncture as an adjunct therapy for treating MDD may greatly enhance the effects of treatments and facilitate its relief.
The effects of acupuncture on the networks of the brain were studied using fMRI to measure the resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) of the cortico-striatal region of the brain.
Acupuncture points on the abdomen were chosen as previous research had found them to be effective in treating depressive disorders. Needles were inserted and were retained for 20 minutes. The treatment was provided once per day for three consecutive days and then once every third day for the rest of the 8-week study.
In the end, acupuncture was found to improve the connections between the cortico-striatum and other regions of the brain. This was confirmed through fMRI data. Clinical studies also noted how the depression scores were also lowered. Researchers conclude that the anti-depressive capacity of acupuncture is because of these improved connections and enhanced capacity of the reward and motivation circuitry.
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