Modern medicine can certainly work wonders, and there is a time and a place for visiting medical professionals. In addition to seeking professional medical advice, there are some non-invasive and proactive steps someone may take to improve their mental and physical health. Some of these practices are very old, such as acupuncture, while others are very new, such as laser therapy. Let’s look at the benefits of some of these holistic health practices as well as some helpful information and resources for each.
Physical therapy can be extremely beneficial for not only the body but also the mind. Regular physical exercise can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, the endocannabinoid anandamide, as well as affecting other psychoactive compounds in the brain such as cortisol and the neurotrophin BDNF. The way physical therapy affects these compounds can lead to reduced depression, elevated mood, and more restful sleep. Additionally, exercise has been shown to activate antioxidant enzymes, promote neurogenesis, and create health benefits for almost every part of the brain and body.
Exercise has a profound effect on all three of these neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a mood elevator and regulator, while dopamine is a critical component of the sensation of pleasure that is also linked to motivation. Norepinephrine is linked to memory and emotions, and when levels are elevated in certain brain regions, it can reduce anxiety and depression.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that plays many different roles. Increased levels can inhibit the behavior-reinforcing effects of drugs such as heroin, nicotine, alcohol, and stimulants while also increasing the levels of dopamine in certain areas, leading to feelings of pleasure. Cortisol is a stress hormone, although when someone exercises their body will metabolize cortisol into an inert form known as cortisone. BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is strongly connected to neurogenesis, and BDNF deficiencies have been implicated in a number of mental illnesses including depression.
Physical therapy is very important, but if someone is struggling with mental health issues, they should absolutely seek professional medical help. While exercise may help improve mood, it is not a solution to mental health issues. It can be a helpful addition to other therapies and treatments, but some helpful resources for finding professional help include:
Both acupuncture and cupping therapy can provide mental health benefits by reducing anxiety, stress, and symptoms of depression. The way these therapies may improve these issues is unknown, but multiple studies have demonstrated their effectiveness.
Acupuncture is a very old practice that has been around for at least 2000 years in China, and possibly elsewhere. The goal of acupuncture is to improve the “qi” flow of the body, thereby improving overall health and wellness. There is some good evidence that acupuncture can improve depression, particularly among pregnant women with major depressive disorder. The way that acupuncture may work to relieve depression is unknown, although there have been several high-quality studies that support this claim.
Cupping has demonstrated the ability to speed up healing time, specifically for bruises and minor soft tissue damage. Cupping may also improve blood flow, reduce pain, and reduce muscle tension which could have an indirect effect on someone’s state of mind by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
While chiropractic care was only invented in the late 1800s, there has been a wide adoption in America and significant evidence indicating its usefulness at improving mood, posture, and wellness. There has also been much recent research on the pain-relieving effect of chiropractic care, which is especially useful in people with chronic pain conditions. This can have many secondary effects on the brain and body and the full range of benefits are still being investigated.
The spinal manipulation that is the core of chiropractic care is known to affect pain signals moving to the brain from the body. Chronic pain is known to increase levels of the neurotransmitters cortisol, glutamate, and substance P which are all involved not only in pain sensation but also stress, anxiety, and depression. Relieving chronic pain can reduce levels of these neurotransmitters, resulting in a more positive mood and outlook.
Chiropractic care has been shown to affect blood pressure, specifically diastolic blood pressure, although the way it changes blood pressure depends on where the adjustment occurs. Cervical (neck) adjustment seems to reduce diastolic blood pressure significantly as well as increase pulse pressure, leading to more efficient cardiovascular function. This could indirectly result in more energy, stamina, and less fatigue thereby increasing someone’s overall wellness.
There are several different ways that chiropractic care can reduce anxiety, some more direct than others. The ability of chiropractic care to reduce levels of the neurotransmitters substance P, cortisol, and glutamate can have profound effects on anxiety. Substance P, in particular, is closely associated with psychological issues including anxiety and depression, while glutamate plays a role in these issues along with other mood disorders. Reduced levels of both of these powerful neurotransmitters can result in less anxiety and a more stable and elevated mood.
While chiropractic care does have many benefits, it is not a cure-all. Some people will need further medical and professional help, and we encourage them to seek help if necessary. For more information and resources about chiropractic care and anxiety, check out these helpful resources below:
Massage therapy can be extremely helpful for mental health issues for a number of reasons. The physical effects are common knowledge, but recent research is indicating that massage therapy can produce profound changes in the brain as well. These changes include increasing levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure, and reducing levels of norepinephrine and cortisol, a neurotransmitter and a hormone that are responsible for stress and anxiety.
Massage can improve mood both directly and indirectly. It has been supposed that massage therapy can improve the negative symptoms of certain mood and anxiety disorders, although the way this occurs is not fully understood. What is known, is that in the short-term, massage can increase levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine while reducing levels of norepinephrine, an anxiety-inducing neurotransmitter that is involved in the fight-or-flight response. This can directly lead to lowered stress levels and a general sense of wellbeing.
Aside from reducing norepinephrine and cortisol levels immediately, regular massage therapy seems to keep levels of these compounds low over time. Lowered cortisol and norepinephrine levels can result in less anxiety and stress overall, and a more relaxed mental and physical state. With 2 weeks of regular massage therapy, levels of these stress-inducing compounds may remain lowered for around 4 weeks.
Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment method for people who are estrogen-deficient for a variety of reasons. This could include peri-menopausal or post-menopausal women or people who are transitioning genders. Replacing hormones that are no longer produced in sufficient quantities, or adding hormones during a gender transition can help to reduce negative mental symptoms that may oftentimes result from these changes.
During menopause, depression is a very common symptom reported by many women. While not the sole factor in menopausal symptoms of depression, lowered estrogen levels have been implicated as a contributor to menopausal depression. Introducing estrogen through HRT may reduce depression and improve mood.
For people who undergo gender transition or gender reassignment procedures, there may be a degree of depression, anxiety, and other negative mental health issues that accompany these procedures. Not much is currently known about the risks and potential side effects of supplementing hormones that are different from someone’s birth gender hormones. If someone wants to undergo HRT for gender-transition purposes, it is highly recommended to consult a medical professional well-versed in transgender medicine.
Laser therapy is an established treatment approach for many health issues, and it has shown benefits for reducing pain. The lasers used for accelerated healing or pain reduction laser therapy are very low-power compared to surgical lasers and are not even capable of damaging skin. Laser therapy typically operates using red or near-infrared light and may sometimes use a proper laser, an LED, or a combination. The mechanism that laser therapy manipulates to produce these effects is not completely understood, but it is thought to affect cellular energy production, thereby altering the functions of certain cells.
Laser therapy has been used quite successfully for many years in the treatment of neuropathic pain. This includes dental pain, diabetic neuropathy, and many other types of nerve pain. There are some newer applications it is being used for, including non-specific chronic low back pain. While laser therapy may help reduce the pain that this condition causes, it does not affect mobility with regard to this particular condition. The fact that laser therapy can reduce pain in neuropathic nerve pain conditions means it may also reduce the mental health sequelae that arise from chronic pain such as depression.
Laser therapy has also shown some recent promise in treating mental health conditions directly. In particular, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease have shown improvement when laser therapy has been applied. The way this may work is not fully understood, but it may have to do with the ability of laser therapy to increase ATP synthesis, reduce oxidative stress, and increase blood flow in the brain.