Acupuncture: The Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression, is a debilitating problem that interferes with the quality of life of thousands of patients, especially during the fall, winter and early spring.

This syndrome seems to be a worldwide phenomenon and occurs cross culturally, especially in countries far from the equator. Clinical symptoms that reappear regularly with the seasonal changes include lethargy; difficulty concentrating; depression; negative thoughts; elevated cravings for carbohydrates with corresponding overeating and weight gain; hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness); tiredness in the morning; diminished libido; and decreased social interaction. Patients typically become more anxious by the end of the summer as they anticipate the coming months, during which less sunlight is present and their symptoms return. (, written by Skya Abbate)

Clinical experience reveals that patients may have other mental problems as well, such as substance abuse disorders, personality disorders and anxiety disorders, which as comorbdid conditions, further exacerbate the degree of the SAD patient's symptoms. Flaws and Lake define SAD as "a variant of bipolar disorder characterized by cyclic manic, depressive or mixed mood states that are somehow triggered by external clues to changing seasons, including principally, increased or decreased day length. Individuals with SAD tend to become depressed during the autumn months and manic during the springtime."1 This is a complicated disorder that may accompany many severe illnesses such as cardiovascular and endocrine disease, and for which a patient should seek qualified professional help. Seasonal affective disorder does, however, respond well to treatment with Oriental medicine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an example of how a change in seasons can affect our emotional and physical wellbeing. Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffer from SAD. It is more commonly observed in those who live at high latitudes (areas farther away from the equator to the north and south). Seasonal changes are generally more extreme in these regions, supporting the idea that SAD is caused by changes in sunlight availability.

While SAD can occur during summer with limited symptoms such as weight loss, trouble sleeping and decreased appetite, its winter symptoms tend to be more severe. Winter-time sufferers of SAD can experience fatigue, increased need for sleep, decreased energy levels, weight gain, increase in appetite, difficulty concentrating and increased desire to be alone.

The TCM yin and yang forces of the seasons coincide with those of the body. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine states that, “People and nature are inseparable.” While yang’s warmth, activity and brightness work through out the spring and summer months, yin’s passivity, coldness and darkness begin in autumn and continue until spring equinox. Therefore, the winter months, which represent the height of the yin cycle and the water element, can cause those whose constitution tends toward yin to feel the effects of this season more acutely.

Western medicine currently treats seasonal affective disorder with light therapy and sometimes with antidepressants. This is because energetic imbalances, which are associated with emotional and physical disturbances in the body, can become more pronounced after a change in weather and sunlight. The downside to these light therapies is that they carry side effects such as eyestrain, headache, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, palpitations, high blood pressure and reduced libido. Also, these therapies do not address the underlying problems, but merely offer symptom relief.

Acupuncture is a natural alternative to light therapy or antidepressants. Acupuncture, which has shown promising results treating depression by releasing serotonin and noradrenaline-norepinephrine, has no side effects. Together with a treatment plan created by a licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture can improve balance of mood and energy, relieving the patient from the burdens of a depressed, unbalanced system.

The winter months are associated with the kidney system, which is the base of qi, our vital energy. The kidney creates fire and warmth and provides energy to other organs. As our bodies use up energy keeping warm, they begin to crave quick sources of new energy in high calorie foods, which are stored as fat to keep the body warm. These foods do not sustain energy levels in the body, nor do they properly nourish the kidney, and with this energy depletion we tend to feel more lethargic and sensitive to our surroundings. This is why winter is a time to seek replenishment of body, mind and spirit.

Nourishment in all areas of life is especially important during the winter months when SAD is most common. Although many people head indoors during winter, it is important to continue outdoor activities to expose yourself to daylight, and to take part in activities that support inner balance. Physical and mental stress, as well as poor sleep and nutrition, further deplete the body’s energy and leave you susceptible to illness. You should rest and conserve energy, but also spend time with friends and loved ones, cultivate your inner dialogue and eat a well balanced diet. Eating less fruits, increasing whole grain intake and plenty of warming foods such as soup, is a great way to nourish the kidney system.

Oriental medicine can restore the balance our bodies seek during seasonal transitions. While the tendency is to look inward or become preoccupied with one area of our health, such as maintaining energy and keeping warm, it is important to remember that balance in everything from your diet to your living environment is essential in sustaining a positive outlook and a healthy mood. (

7 Signs That You Need Acupuncture This Spring

Last week was the first day of spring. Yahoo! Except for that fact that many people don’t feel so hot this time of year.

The flu is — knock on wood — mostly behind us. Allergies have not quite exploded yet. So, why do so many of us feel off in the early days of spring?

You can kindly thank your liver!

In acupuncture theory, humans are viewed as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them. Seasons — particularly the transitional periods, when we move from from one season to the next — factor significantly into how we feel.

Each season is linked with an organ system in the body, and spring’s system is liver. This means that the liver, as it adjusts to taking over the seasonal reins, is especially vulnerable.

When the liver is vulnerable, the functions throughout the body for which the liver is responsible have a tendency to get out of whack.

Eventually, spring can become a time when the liver and its associated functions thrive. However, during this transitional period, when the liver is still finding its footing, certain symptoms commonly show up. Acupuncture improves these symptoms by restoring balance to the liver system.

Here are seven signs that your liver may need some acupuncture love:

You Feel Extra Tense

In acupuncture, liver is the system that’s responsible for smooth flow throughout the body. When the liver is not functioning optimally, things like emotional stress, rigid posture, shallow breathing, and jaw clenching may become exacerbated.

You Have Headaches and Other Aches and Pains

When things aren’t flowing smoothly, we start to experience what acupuncturists think of as stagnation-type symptoms. These include pain, and specifically pain that feels like pressure, tightness or restriction. Tension headaches and menstrual cramps are commonly worse this time of year.

Your Muscles are Really Stiff

The liver and its associated system, gallbladder, nourish the body’s connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. You may notice increased stiffness, tension or tightness in your muscles and joints in the coming weeks.

You Feel Irritable and Frustrated

Are you feeling more annoyed than charmed by the springtime sound of chirping birds? The emotional symptoms associated with Liver imbalances mimic the physical stagnation that happens. You may notice yourself feeling extra irritabile or frustrated, perhaps more easily annoyed. There’s an emotional stuckness that can take hold in spring.

Your Fuse Is Shorter Than Usual

All organ systems in acupuncture have an associated emotion. Liver’s emotion is anger. A healthy dose of anger helps complete a balanced emotional profile. However, when the liver isn’t appropriately keeping things in check, there is a tendency for anger to rise up. Along with feeling irritable, you may have a harder time than usual controlling your anger.

Your Digestion Is Messed Up

Healthy digestion is heavily dependent on consistent and smooth movement throughout the whole body. When the liver fails to maintain flow, digestive disturbances can easily occur. There’s also the whole brain-gut connection. When emotional stress is higher than usual, digestive function naturally declines.

Your Eyes Are Bothering You

Just as all organ systems have an associated emotion, they also have an associated sense. Sight goes with the liver system, so any issues related to eye health are usually attributed, at least in part, to a liver imbalance. This can include poor vision as well as eye pain and fatigue, and dry eyes. This simple exercise can help.

The Springtime Acupressure Point

If you only remember one acupuncture point all spring, it should be Liver 3.

Located on the foot, between the first and second toes (click here to see exact location), Liver 3 is the source point on the liver channel.

Source points behave sort of like central stations on subway lines. They are hubs where internal and external energies gather and transform. They are single, high-concentration points that grant access to the larger system.

Any time of year, Liver 3 is a go-to point for stagnation throughout the body. Because of the spring-liver connection, the point is doubly useful for addressing springtime stagnation-type symptoms.

Applying acupressure to Liver 3 will help get things moving like no other point. Poke around the point area until you discover a tender spot. Liver 3, if pressed firmly enough, is sensitive on most people.

Once you have the point, apply firm pressure. This should feel a little achy. The more the better on this point, so feel free to do this acupressure exercise anytime your bare feet are available. Liver 3 can be pressed on one or both sides.

Incidentally, an acupressure device we reviewed recently on AcuTake can be used for Liver 3. The device was designed for Large Intestine 4, a point on the hand, but it also fits nicely and works just as well on Liver 3 (click here to see picture).

If in the coming weeks you experience some telltale signs of a liver imbalance, don’t get down on yourself — they’re completely normal during the seasonal transition. A little acupuncture will help realign your system so that you can enjoy the wonders of spring.

This article originally appeared on and was written by Sara Calabro


Understanding Gua Sha: Benefits and Side Effects


What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a natural, alternative therapy that involves scraping your skin with a massage tool to improve your circulation. This ancient Chinese healing technique may offer a unique approach to better health, addressing issues like chronic pain.

In gua sha, a technician scrapes your skin with short or long strokes to stimulate microcirculation of the soft tissue, which increases blood flow. They make these strokes with a smooth-edged instrument known as a gua massage tool. The technician applies massage oil to your skin, and then uses the tool to repeatedly scrape your skin in a downward motion.

Gua sha is intended to address stagnant energy, called chi, in the body that practitioners believe may be responsible for inflammation. Inflammation is the underlying cause of several conditions associated with chronic pain. Rubbing the skin’s surface is thought to help break up this energy, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.

Gua sha is generally performed on a person’s back, buttocks, neck, arms, and legs. A gentle version of it is even used on the face as a facial technique. Your technician may apply mild pressure, and gradually increase intensity to determine how much force you can handle.


What are the benefits of gua sha?

Gua sha may reduce inflammation, so it’s often used to treat ailments that cause chronic pain, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, as well as those that trigger muscle and joint pain.

Gua sha may also relieve symptoms of other conditions:

1. Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, liver damage, and liver scarring. Research suggests that gua sha may reduce chronic liver inflammation.

One case study followed a man with high liver enzymes, an indicator of liver inflammation. He was given gua sha, and after 48 hours of treatment he experienced a decline in liver enzymes. This leads researchers to believe that gua sha has the ability to improve liver inflammation, thus decreasing the likelihood of liver damage. More research is underway.

2. Migraine headaches

If your migraine headaches don’t respond to over-the-counter medications, gua sha may help. In one study, a 72-year-old woman living with chronic headaches received gua sha over a 14-day period. Her migraines improved during this time, suggesting that this ancient healing technique may be an effective remedy for headaches. More research is needed.

3. Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is a condition experienced by many breastfeeding women. This is when the breasts overfill with milk. It usually occurs in the first weeks of breastfeeding or if the mother is away from the infant for any reason. Breasts become swollen and painful, making it difficult for babies to latch. This is usually a temporary condition.

In one study, women were given gua sha from the second day after giving birth up until leaving the hospital. The hospital followed up with these women in the weeks after giving birth and found that many had fewer reports of engorgement, breast fullness, and discomfort. This made it easier for them to breastfeed.

4. Neck pain

Gua sha technique may also prove effective for remedying chronic neck pain. To determine the effectiveness of this therapy, 48 study participants were split into two groups. One group was given gua sha and the other used a thermal heating pad to treat neck pain. After one week, participants who received gua sha reported less pain compared to the group that didn’t receive gua sha.

5. Tourette syndrome

Tourette syndrome involves involuntary movements such as facial tics, throat clearing, and vocal outbursts. According to a single case study, gua sha combined with other therapies may have helped to reduce symptoms of Tourette syndrome in the study participant.

The study involved a 33-year-old male who had Tourette syndrome since the age of 9. He received acupuncture, herbs, gua sha, and modified his lifestyle. After 35 once-a-week treatments, his symptoms improved by 70 percent. Even though this man had positive results, further research is needed.

6. Perimenopausal syndrome

Perimenopause occurs as women move closer to menopause. Symptoms include:

  • insomnia
  • irregular periods
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • hot flashes

One study, however, found that gua sha may reduce symptoms of perimenopause in some women.

The study examined 80 women with perimenopausal symptoms. The intervention group received 15 minute gua sha treatments once a week in conjunction with conventional therapy for eight weeks. The control group only received conventional therapy.

Upon completion of the study, the intervention group reported greater reduction of symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, headaches, and hot flashes compared to the control group. Researchers believe gua sha therapy might be a safe, effective remedy for this syndrome.


Does gua sha have side effects?

As a natural healing remedy, gua sha is safe. It’s not supposed to be painful, but the procedure may change the appearance of your skin. Because it involves rubbing or scraping skin with a massage tool, tiny blood vessels known as capillaries near the surface of your skin can burst. This can result in skin bruising and minor bleeding. Bruising usually disappears within a couple of days.

Some people also experience temporary indentation of their skin after a gua sha treatment.

If any bleeding occurs, there’s also the risk of transferring bloodborne illnesses with gua sha therapy, so it’s important for technicians to disinfect their tools after each person.

Avoid this technique if you’ve had any surgery in the last six weeks.

People who are taking blood thinners or have clotting disorders aren’t good candidates for gua sha.


When conventional therapies don’t improve your symptoms, research suggests that gua sha may be able to provide relief.

This technique may appear straightforward and simple, but it should only be performed by a licensed acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese medicine. This ensures a safe, proper treatment. More research is needed, but there are few risks associated with this massage technique.

Whoever you choose, make sure that person has a certification in gua sha. Certification confirms they have basic knowledge of this healing practice. Using a professional improves the effectiveness of the treatment and reduces the risk of pain or severe bruising from excessive force.

This article originally appeared on

GUA SHA is used in conjunction with Acupuncture treatments to optimize treatment plans. Learn more about Acupuncture at Reset Wellness here.

The Power of Using Acupuncture as Preventative Medicine

Healthcare in the United States is undergoing a significant transition as large portions of the population are now looking for wellness solutions that are proactive and forward-thinking.  For far too long, medicine in the West has relied upon a reactive model of treatment, one that offers relief after an ailment has occurred and already affected quality of life.  This shift in perspective is becoming quite prevalent; an example is currently being seen within the options presented by insurance providers.  These companies are now beginning to cater to their customers’ preferences for alternative medical options—something that was unheard of in the past.

Can Acupuncture Be Used As Preventative Medicine?

Over the past ten to twenty years there has been a considerable rise in the popularity and notoriety of alternative medicine—specifically acupuncture, which is now seen as a viable solution to promoting and supporting health and well-being.

Many people are looking outside the boundaries of Western medicine, as they now understand that maintenance of the body and prevention of illness require a forward-thinking and holistic approach.  Acupuncture offers this perspective as it has the ability to maintain health and the capability to resolve sickness, pain and suffering.

Research studies are currently being done to test the validity of the claims being made regarding the effectiveness of certain alternative modalities when treating specific ailments.  There are numerous studies that have been completed—and many that are now underway—which present supporting evidence regarding the efficacy of alternative medicine as either a complement to or a replacement of Western medicine.

The University Of Maryland Medical Center completed their research and concluded that acupuncture provided true pain relief and was not just a placebo effect. [Link] The Harvard Medical School published an article that also provided support stating that there is clear benefit to using acupuncture; specifically how low the potential adverse affects can be when compared with Western medications. [Link]

In a previous post titled “Why Do I Need Acupuncture,” we presented information about how useful acupuncture is to promote good health.  There was an analogy we shared which is applicable to the premise that acupuncture can be used as a preventative medicine.  The analogy is that every automobile that runs on gasoline is required to get its oil changed after driving a specific number of miles.  By performing this scheduled maintenance, the integrity of the engine will be maintained and mechanical issues will be prevented.  The engine needs fresh oil to properly function.  When the oil breaks down, friction can occur, leading to serious—and possibly catastrophic—issues.

The human body can be likened to a car engine as it has specific functions that require maintenance, care and attention.  Energy flows throughout the body.  When it gets blocked or becomes stagnant, health issues can arise.  When energy is able to move freely, the mind, body and spirit will be peaceful and harmonious.  Receiving regular, or semi-regular, acupuncture treatments provides the necessary support the body needs.  It will address any issues that might need to be focused on before they become a bigger problem.

So, to answer the question as to whether acupuncture can be used as a preventative medicine, the answer is yes, it certainly can be.  We wanted to also share our thoughts on how it can be used as a complement to Western medicine.  Let us be clear in this regard.  There is a place for both medicines to co-exist, and it is our hope that in the future Eastern and Western medicine can finally come together to provide a more holistic solution for humanity.  Each side has its strengths and weaknesses, its advantages and disadvantages.  To choose one without consideration of the other is to negate the potential for health and set aside possibilities for healing.

This article originally appeared on and was written by PAUL KERZNER