How to Treat Panic Attacks with Chinese Medicine
The intense and sometimes unexpected episodes of a panic attack can be debilitating. Chinese medicine approaches panic attacks by addressing multiple mechanisms underlying this psychological imbalance. A panic attack may occur from depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
In conventional medicine, panic disorders are often treated with antidepressants. A Cochrane review in 2018 found the efficacy number to be 7 meaning that 7 patients need to be on antidepressants for one to benefit.
Therefore, many patients experience side effects from antidepressants without the prescribed benefit. These side effects include insomnia, indigestion, headaches, and even anxiety.
Chinese herbal medicine carries fewer side effects than conventional pharmaceuticals. These herbs calm the imbalances in neurotransmitters that may be causing a panic attack. For example, anxiety manifests with an excess of neurotransmitters where depression manifests with a decrease in neurotransmitters. In these cases, Chinese medicine strives to bring neurotransmitters back into homeostasis.
Regarding acupuncture for panic attacks, Chinese medicine doctors work to direct healthy energy upwards while releasing stagnation from the mind. The upward movement is designed to help balance Qi.
Notably, through targeting the whole body, most patients would agree that they walked out of the door after an acupuncture therapy feeling better than when they walked in.
A well-known herbal antidepressant is ginseng. A compound isolated from ginseng, 20(S)-protopanaxadiol, exhibits positive antidepressant activities by increasing norepinephrine and serotonin levels in brains.
In 2015, researchers allocated 3 g/day of ginseng to patients with major depression for 8 weeks. The participants reported significant decreases in depressive symptoms and showed significant improvement in the severity of their illness. Thus suggesting that ginseng holds the potential to restore balance in patients who experience depression related panic attacks.
Additionally, a myriad of Chinese medicinal herbs also relieve depression.
A randomized controlled trial in 2009 evaluated a handful of Chinese medicinal herbs for perimenopausal depression. The researchers found significant reductions in perimenopausal depression in the research arm compared to placebo. Depression scores were based off of the 24-item Hamilton Depression Scale.
A meta-analysis in 2019 analyzed the herbal medicine blend Sihogayonggolmoryeo-tang (SGYMT) for post-stroke depression. The analysis found SGYMT used as a stand alone therapy or in adjunct with antidepressants produced reductions in depression.
A randomized controlled trial in 2013 observed the clinical efficacy of Shugan Jianwei Anshen herbal decoction and acupuncture for depression. Radix Bupleuri and Radix Paeooniae Alba were the main herbs in this decoction. After 8 weeks of therapy, the clinicians found the therapies to be effective for 87.2% of the group. Most notably, the reduction in depression was more significant in the acupuncture + herbal group than the pharmaceutical antidepressant group.
To address the anxiety accompanying a panic attack, herbal anxiolytics are helpful. Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest native trees in Chinese. The leaves have been found to inhibit the uptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine in a rat brain. This inhibition alleviates anxiety symptoms.
In 2007, researchers took an extract of ginkgo Biloba to analyze its potential effects on anxiety disorder. 107 patients with generalized anxiety disorder or adjustment disorder with anxious mood were blindly randomized to either receive daily doses of ginkgo or a placebo for four weeks.
The study measured participants’ anxiety, aggression, and similar symptoms. The participants who received ginkgo had a significant reduction in anxiety in comparison to the placebo. The participants tolerated the supplements well, suggesting ginkgo is safe to use at a larger scale.
Researchers in 2013 analyzed acupuncture as a therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Participants received acupuncture once a week for 6 weeks. The study found significant reductions in anxiety pre- and post-intervention.
Another factor causing panic attacks is insomnia. A build-up of anxiety can manifest with insomnia and night-time panic attacks. Suan-Zao-Ren is a decoction of Chinese herbal medicines utilized to alleviate insomnia.
The herbs support the GABAergic and serotonergic systems in the body, adding sedative qualities. A meta-analysis in 2018 analyzed 13 randomized controlled studies. The analysis found herbal therapy to be effective for relieving insomnia. This benefit was measured by increases in the participant’s time sleeping.
To help manage panic attacks, a practitioner must work with you to understand what is driving your attacks, whether it be anxiety, depression, or another factor.
Chinese medicine, both herbs and acupuncture, hold the potential to support anxiety signs and symptoms.