PEMF THERAPY FOR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
by Dr. William Pawluk
Depression and anxiety can have a debilitating impact on daily life. Individuals with these conditions often find themselves exhausted, experiencing difficulties with regular sleep, overwhelmingly sad or anxious, and feeling empty and hopeless. On top of all that, depression and anxiety can also cause severe physical symptoms – such as headaches, digestive trouble, and chronic pain – that don’t respond well to typical treatment. This article discusses the many ways in which PEMFs for depression and anxiety can enhance the outcomes of other therapies and help with this hidden epidemic.
The statistics on depression and anxiety in the United States are sobering. In 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 17.3 million adults (7.1%) in the US experienced a major depressive episode. Among these adults who experienced major depressive episodes, 63.8% had severe impairments that interfered with their ability to carry out the major activities of daily life.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with 31.1 % of adults experiencing it at some point in their lifetime, according to Harvard University’s National Comorbidity Study.
Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, with about one-half of individuals diagnosed with depression also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. And that doesn’t even take into account the people who go undiagnosed.
While depression and anxiety are highly treatable, approximately two-thirds of people with these problems do not seek or receive proper treatment. And of those who do take advantage of conventional methods of treatment such as medication, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), approximately one-fourth do not respond. As understanding of the neurobiology behind the issues increases, the door opens for new treatments, including PEMFs for depression and anxiety. Let’s start our discussion of PEMF therapy for depression and anxiety disorders by taking a closer look at what depression and anxiety actually are.
WHAT ARE DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY?
Depression is a sustained feeling of dejection and despondency. Clinicians have identified various causes and contributing factors including abuse (PTSD), certain medications, conflict, death or a loss, genetics, personal problems, and major illnesses. Some doctors and scientists believe depression (and some other mental and emotional disorders) is associated with an imbalance of neurotransmitters among neurons in the brain. In the case of depression, they relate the condition to inadequate levels of serotonin. The symptoms of depression can include sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, withdrawal from others, and even suicidal thoughts and intent.
Anxiety is a natural response to stress and takes the form first and foremost of a feeling of fear or apprehension. Most if not all of us feel anxiety on occasion, but when the feeling is frequent and persistent, is exaggerated, or gets in the way of normal activities, the individual may well have an anxiety disorder. There are various types including social phobia, specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Symptoms can include feel nervous, afraid, or panicky, sweating, trembling, and sleep disturbances. The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood, but some scientists hypothesize a link between the condition and traumatic life events (PTSD) and/or major illnesses like heart disease, thyroid disease, chronic pain, and others. You’ll note that in the case of both depression and anxiety disorders, scientists suspect there’s often a link between the emotional condition and physical conditions, often those resulting in chronic pain. So, to better understand depression and anxiety disorders, let’s look at the “chronic pain brain.”
UNDERSTANDING THE CHRONIC PAIN BRAIN
Long-term pain, both physical and emotional, can have a profound impact on the brain. When your brain is exposed to pain signals constantly, it causes changes to the brain that can result in what I call “chronic pain brain.” When your brain is receiving constant messages that pain is present, your limbic system (where emotion lives) and frontal cortex (the decision making part of your brain) are activated. When this happens, the perception of pain can be far more intense than the actual pain. Mental distress caused by depression and anxiety can trigger these pain signals the same way a physical issue can.
Traditional approaches, particularly medications, don’t address these brain changes (or, sometimes, the imbalance of neurotransmitters many scientists believe is involved with cases of depression or anxiety disorder.) They simply cover up the problem without addressing the root cause of the pain. This is problematic because it can often take more medication to relieve the symptoms as time goes by, and can also lead to addiction issues.
Another problem with conventional treatments is the time it takes to feel relief. Antidepressant medications are often Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs typically take four to six weeks to produce results since they aren’t working specifically at the brain synapse level, and 30% of patients prove to be resistant to antidepressants altogether.
Similarly, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are long-term interventions. Other therapies, like ECT (convulsive therapy) and rTMS (high intensity transcranial magnetic stimulation) have to be applied repeatedly to get the full therapeutic effect. With the exception of medications, none of these therapies can be applied at home daily.
PEMF therapy, however, can work fast and can easily be self-administered at home. As of 2006, the FDA approved PEMF therapy for anxiety and depression. Here’s some of the evidence that suggests it’s effective.
PEMF FOR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY – EVIDENCE AND EFFECTIVENESS
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of magnetic field therapies on both depression and anxiety disorders as well as many other conditions affecting the brain.
One study at Harvard Medical School found that the PEMF device they used prompted greater than 10% significant improvement in mood after just one 20-minute treatment in patients with bipolar disorder and in patients with major depressive disorder (Rohan, et al). This was a double-blind study, which means it employed the most rigorous research design, and while this is just one study, it demonstrates the immediate benefits that PEMFs for depression and anxiety can have. After only one 20-minute treatment, every subject showed more than 10% improvement on such indicators as mood, life interests, and ability to work.
Another study found that after five weeks of active treatment with low-intensity transcranial PEMF (T-PEMF), there was a 62% reduction on a Depression Rating Scale among those in the active T-PEMF group (Martiny, et al). This study also found that improvement was noticeable within the first weeks of therapy.
A home study using the same device found that after eight weeks of daily treatment, 73% of subjects were relieved of their depression. At five weeks in, this number was only 27% (Strasso, et al). Two years after the treatment, 52% of subjects were still in remission, and those who were not in remission, found relief after another course of treatment (Bech, et al).
Additional evidence, anecdotal but interesting nonetheless, comes to us from a severely depressed and withdrawn patient who was given an MRI. (An MRI scan is, like PEMF therapy, a source of pulsed electromagnetic fields.) After the 45-minute brain scan, the patient began talking animatedly with her doctors.
This suggests that long-term, daily treatment – which can be easily achieved with a portable home PEMF device – could be very beneficial for people who suffer from depression and anxiety, with minimal side effects, and without the cost, time commitment and inconvenience necessary to receive other treatments in a professional’s office.
Both animal and human research have demonstrated the value of using PEMFs to treat depression. One study showed that mice treated with a pulsed low-frequency magnetic field had a reduction in “anxiety-like behaviors” after fifteen minutes of treatment (Choleris, et al). Similar results were found in a study using rats (Kalkan, et al).
One study of low-intensity PEMF in healthy women showed that applying treatment to two areas of the brain for just nine minutes caused brain EEG changes. This indicates that PEMF stimulation can decrease higher EEG frequencies, common in anxiety, making it very effective in treating anxiety (Amirifalah, et al).
A wide body of additional research demonstrates that PEMFs, both low and high intensity, can be helpful in treating a range of anxiety disorders, from mild to quite severe.
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE WITH PEMF AND ANXIETY
I saw an extremely anxious patient in my medical office, too nervous to sit still. Just applying a medium intensity coil to the back of the neck for 45 minutes reduced her anxiety by over 60%. She got her own PEMF device and uses it every day to maintain control. She is no longer afraid to go anywhere that would previously have caused her fear to be aroused.
HOW DO PEMFS FOR DEPRESSION HELP HEAL WITH DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY?
PEMF stands for Pulsed Electromagnetic Field, and PEMF therapy involves applying electromagnetic waves from the harmless part of the electromagnetic spectrum to the body. These waves are often delivered via a special “yoga mat” on which the patient lies. There is reason to believe that resulting extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic stimulus (PEMF) interacts with the cells to increase oxygen circulation, reduce inflammation, improve mobility, ease pain, and promote faster healing. It may increase cell metabolism, decrease inflammatory cytokines, and perhaps restore balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Though your body needs both of these for bodily functions including the immune response and cellular respiration, an imbalance could conceivably lead to protein and fat degradation, DNA damage, and cell and tissue death.
PEMF was originally used to treat fractures and the FDA approved it for that purpose in 1979. Today, however, it’s been used to provide therapy for a broad range of ailments and conditions including Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, and chronic pain. It received general FDA approval in 2007 and today is used by many people around the world. Many athletes, for example, look to it help them achieve peak performance, and veterinarians have even turned to it to address osteoarthritis in dogs and fractures in racehorses. As its use has spread, doctors and patients have explored its efficacy for promoting not just physical well-being but emotional health as well. Today, hundreds of thousands of people turn look to PEMF therapy to relieve depression and improve mental health, as do thousands of chiropractors, pain clinics, naturopathy clinics, etc.
Stimulation with PEMFs directly impacts the brain, causing changes to the underlying EEG patterns through entrainment of brainwave oscillations. It thus addresses the chemical and hormonal imbalances associated with depression and anxiety disorders.
To put it another way, brain entrainment is a therapeutic modality intended to ensure that the neurons in your brain are functioning at optimal electromagnetic frequencies. The benefits can be numerous, one example being to correct the sleep disturbance often associated with depression and anxiety disorders. PEMF therapy can guide the brain toward the delta rhythm associated with deep, restful sleep. It may also regenerate brain tissue and reduce cellular aging.
Other forms of entrainment, most notably electrical stimulation and visual auditory stimulation, have been tested and used to create these changes. PEMFs penetrate more directly and deeply into the brain than these other methods, however, allowing them to balance and heal the brain tissue that is part of the mood and any pain problem.
The stimulation from PEMFs has an effect on the electrical activity of neurons, which changes the neuronal networks that alter the areas of the brain that control mood. The fields also seem to impact the glucose metabolism of the regions in the brain that are linked to depression and anxiety. Neuroscientists have mapped these changes, and even very weak PEMFs have been found to prompt the changes.
There is also evidence to suggest that PEMF therapy may improve creativity, hearing, and motor coordination. While this is obviously not direct evidence of relief for depression and anxiety disorders, it is further evidence that PEMF therapy may exercise a beneficial effect on brain functioning in general.
HOME TREATMENT WITH PEMF FOR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Depression and anxiety are complex conditions that often require long-term treatment. The flexibility of a portable, battery-operated PEMF therapy device makes it an ideal component to treatment for anxiety and depression.
These machines are easy to apply, and can be used daily for as long as you’d like – even overnight, which can promote high quality sleep. Sleep quality has important benefits to the management of depression and anxiety.
PEMF therapy is also absolutely safe and non-invasive. There are no needles, IVs, or even pills, and since there’s no medication, there’s virtually no risk of adverse reactions, side effects, or dependency.
If you are looking for an alternative method to managing depression or anxiety, or for a new therapy modality to add to an existing therapy plan, call my office and speak to a member of my staff, who can discuss the potential benefits of PEMF therapy with you. Or, for more information on PEMF therapy, check here.
Amirifalah Z, Firoozabadi SM, Shafiei SA. Local exposure of brain central areas to a pulsed ELF magnetic field for a purposeful change in EEG. Clin EEG Neurosci. 2013 Jan;44(1):44-52.
Bech P, Lindberg L, Straaso B, et al. 2-year follow-up study of patients participating in our transcranial pulsating electromagnetic fields (T-PEMF) augmentation in treatment-resistant depression. Acta Neuropsychiatrica 2015.
Choleris E, Thomas AW, Prato FS. A comparison of the effects of a 100 ut specific pulsed magnetic field and diazepam on anxiety-related behaviors in male CF1 mice. Bioelectromagnetics Society, 21st Annual Meeting, 20-24 June, Long Beach, CA, Abstract No. P-91, p. 129-130, 1999.
Kalkan MT, Korpinar MA, Seker S, et al. The effect of the 50 Hz frequency sinusoidal magnetic field on the stress-related behavior of rats. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference Biomedical Engineering Days, 20-22 May, Istanbul, Turkey, p.78-81, 1998.
Machado S, Paes F, Velasques B, et al. Is rTMS an effective therapeutic strategy that can be used to treat anxiety disorders? Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):125-34.
Martiny K, Lunde M, Bech P: Transcranial low voltage pulsed electromagnetic fields in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Biol Psychiatry 2010, 68:163–169.
Rohan ML, Yamamoto RT, Ravichandran CT, Cayetano KR, Morales OG, Olson DP, Vitaliano G, Paul SM, Cohen BM. Rapid mood-elevating effects of low field magnetic stimulation in depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Aug 1;76(3):186-93.
Straaso B, Lauritzen L, Lunde M, et al. Dose-remission of pulsating electromagnetic fields as
augmentation in therapy-resistant depression: a randomized, double blind controlled study. Acta