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With Complementary Alternative Medicine gaining more popularity, researchers and practitioners are turning to Integrative Medicine methods for treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans.
Integrative medicine was previously tested for effectiveness on soldiers in 2008 at Fort Hood. The experimental treatment was called the ‘Warrior Combat Stress Rest Program’. Through this, numerous doctors and specialists began to integrate traditional CAM practices into the soldier’s extensive treatment plan. Treatments included reiki, behavior health therapy, reflexology, acupuncture, and even energy healing techniques, in addition to their VA approved therapies. This treatment lasted several weeks and targeted all symptoms associated with PTSD; anxiety, depression, migraines, pain, panic disorders, insomnia, mood disorders, focus abilities, and more.
Throughout the experimental treatment, each participant was asked to complete various surveys which analyzed each area of their PTSD. This experimental treatment proved that incorporating Integrative Medicine into the veteran’s PTSD treatment plan was effective in clinical treatment and patient satisfaction (Libretto, 2015). Unfortunately, despite successful results with the Warrior Combat Stress Rest Program, the use of Integrative Medicine was discontinued. However, that has not stopped the rise in acknowledgment of CAM therapies as PTSD treatment.
Individuals are beginning to seek Integrative medicine for their post-traumatic stress disorder treatment outside the care offered by the VA.
It’s been noted that 39% of individuals suffering from PTSD reported using Integrative medicine outside of their insurance coverage for treatment. Yoga was determined to be the most widely used complementary alternative therapy. More recently, some yoga practitioners are focusing on what is known as Trauma Informed Yoga (TIY). This emerging type of therapy teaches the clients to focus on “building mindful awareness of internal sensations”. Trauma Informed yoga places more focus on the client’s inner calm through specific movements. When individuals utilize multiple sessions of TIY “they may [learn to] reside in those sensations for longer periods of time” (Justice, 2016).
The discovery of this yoga technique provides an incredible benefit for veterans with PTSD because trauma informed yoga focuses on activating the suppressed parasympathetic nervous system and ultimately creating a relaxing response.
TIY uses longer breathing techniques, slower pace, and restoring postures. This allows the veteran to focus on their physical body and hone in on their inner self. Additionally, it also provides distraction from the outer stressors that can trigger their PTSD. Regular use of TIY restores balance to the autonomic nervous system. It trains the body to properly react and relax to outside stressors, which would normally promote a PTSD response. However, yoga is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to Integrative Medicine and PTSD treatment. The focus needs to remain on the connection between the entire mind and body.
With so many options, veterans and their caregivers should look deeper into Complementary Alternative Medicine to unearth more of the less-than-common treatment options to aid in the reduction of PTSD symptoms and improving the veteran’s quality of life.
Acupuncture is quickly rising to the top as it is considered pain reducing alternative therapy. It is well known among the veteran community that pain and PTSD go hand-in-hand. Both of these affect the quality of life of a veteran with PTSD and one shouldn’t be treated without the other. Colonel Richard Niemtzow, MD, PhD, discovered the ‘Battlefield Points’, which he used on the ear to treat pain in combat veterans. Studies from his work show an 80% reduction of pain within a five minute period. For most of his patients, this pain reduction lasted for days. Others reported that their pain completely diminishing (Lahoz, 2014).
Acupuncture is also known to have a positive affect on the dopaminergic system.
Having a dopamine deficiency causes a decrease in mood, behavior, motivation, and memory. This deficiency also creates symptoms that are experienced by Parkinson’s Disease; such as tremors, poor memory, and speech dysfunctions. As a result of the regular use of specific acupuncture points, it shows through clinical trials to have neuroprotective actions on the dopaminergic system. It has also reversed damage and deficiency to the production of dopamine; thus being able to reduce certain symptoms of PTSD in veterans along with pain (Kim, 2011).
This was documented by acupuncturist Colet Lahoz during her treatment of one patient suffering with chronic PTSD.
Her client had experienced traumatic events during his deployment and returned with chronic PTSD. His symptoms had a debilitating affect on his lifestyle as he experienced severe anxiety attacks, pain, panic, aggression, depression, and exhibited anti-social behavior. These symptoms were non-existent before his deployment. The VA was currently treating him with psychotherapy and a multitude of prescription medication. Yet her client reported no improvement while family claimed his PTSD was worsening. Colet recalls that after his first acupuncture treatment, which included the Battlefield points, the veteran’s family reported an immediate improvement. She also recounted that after the veteran completed his six month acupuncture treatment plan, he displayed minimal symptoms of PTSD. He was also freed of his prescription medication regimen (Lahoz, 2014). When the proper acupuncture points are treated, the therapy has the potential to provide a positive impact on reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and pain.
However, acupuncture is not the only Traditional Chinese Medicinal application that is being utilized to aid in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans.
We are also beginning to see an upward trend in the use of herbal remedies, which is leaving many individuals to wonder: If these can promote healing in the body, can they provide benefits to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder? It is no secret that gut health and anxiety disorders have a relation (Komaroff, N. D.). Traditional Chinese Medicine has discovered the relation between poor lifestyle, nutrition health, and panic disorders. Herbalists utilize herbs to focus on gut cleansing.
Another focus the sleep. Insomnia is highly prevalent within the veteran community when P TSD is present.
Many herbs are known for their calming effects. Not only is this beneficial for insomnia but these herbs aid in reducing anxiety and panic attacks; providing a sense of calm from the inside. Insomnia causes many of the problems veterans experience because they are not getting adequate sleep and their bodies cannot function properly. Therefore veterans with PTSD are more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Herbs have shown to be beneficial to both the physical self and the mental self, which includes insomnia (Gaeddert, 2002). Taking herbal supplements or tea daily may aid in reducing some of the symptoms of PTSD by cleansing the body and adding proper nutritional intake. When the veteran focuses on healing from the inside- out, the effects can radiate on a bigger level.
At the same time there are other medicinal plant substances that can work from the outside in.
Just as herbs work on the physical and mental body, essential oils can benefit not just the body but the mind also. This allows PTSD to be tackled with the mind-body healing method. Many essential oils are combined with a carrier oil to be used topically, which aids in pain reduction. However they also have a direct affect of the mental health of an individual. Take for instance, Bergamot Citrus bergamia. This essential oil is known as a powerful nervine. It is highlighted in numerous clinical studies, and is said to be the most beneficial essential oil for mental health (Petersen, 2017).
Studies have shown Bergamot is able to reduce stress-induced anxiety based on its anxiolytic properties that aid in bringing balance to the autonomic nervous system. This is achieved by activating the rest and relax phase from the parasympathetic nervous system. (Rombolà, 2017). When combined with other relaxing essential oils, such as Vetiver, Lavender, Basil, or Ylang Ylang and diffused, this essential oil can have calming effects that aid the parasympathetic nervous system in entering a state of calm. This restores balance to the autonomic nervous system, ultimately reducing the symptoms of PTSD. Many essential oils may also aid in promoting more quality sleep due to their sedative properties.
Still, anxiety and depression remain the most experienced and problematic symptoms of PTSD
Unconventional treatments, like homeopathy, are gaining recognition as a beneficial Integrative treatment for PTSD. Many individuals find that homeopathic treatments are “significant, affordable, safe, and without strong side effects” (Macdermott, 2018). Homeopathic medicine focuses on minute doses of a natural “prescription” remedy which targets specific symptoms. This method is able to target the symptom with the goal of improvement; unlike the use of western medicine and prescription medication which works to suppress the symptoms. Since homeopathy believes ‘like heals like’, practitioners utilize the described symptoms to narrow down to the most appropriate treatment plan.
A case study of a woman with severe panic attacks was reviewed. The homeopathic remedy arsenicum album was chosen based on symptoms that she described during the panic attacks. After three weeks of thaking this remedy, the patient reported that her panic attacks had ceased (Macdermott, 2018). This shows that with the correct remedy and treatment plan, homeopathy can be used to reduce PTSD symptoms in veterans. Despite homeopathy being one of the lesser known CAM therapies utilized in the treatment of PTSD, there are other treatments that are beginning to make a breakthrough in Integrative Medicine.
Scientists have discovered that cranial electrotherapy stimulation is effective in reversing the brain changes that have taken place during extreme trauma.
Ultimately, cranial electrotherapy stimulation can aid in the reduction of PTSD symptoms. This integrative therapy treats a patient without any of the conventional practices. The Alpha Stim machine has proven to be highly effective for veterans and is beginning to receive recognition from the VA. Alpha Stim therapy can be done in a VA clinic or in the comfort of one’s home. This type of stimulation connects to the earlobes and sends alpha waves through the brain. This helps restore normal brain functions and especially affects the noradrenergic and serotonergic systems by increasing the amount of norepinephrine and serotonin to the “blood and cerebrospinal fluid” (Rose, 2008).
Studies have shown that out of the 60% of veterans surveyed for Alpha Stim use, all participants reported a 25% reduction in PTSD symptoms with regular use. Also, 20% of the participants reported that they were able to eliminate prescription medication all together.
One medical professional noted that of his patients that utilized the Alpha Stim regularly, many were able to improve sleep and reduce alcohol dependency (Scarff, 2017). Regular use of this therapy is encouraged since over time the restoration of normal brain function is increased and the relief for anxiety and mood dysfunctions improves dramatically. According to veterans, like Rob who suffer from extreme anxiety, the Alpha Stim is convenient and “reduces my anxiety instantly and unlike anything else” (Guevara, 2019). This unconventional therapy appears to be a break through on treating the root cause of brain dysfunction in veterans with PTSD.
However, improving mental health and PTSD need to be addressed not just on a scientific level, as seen with Alpha Stim, but on a personal level.
Despite Energy Healing being one of the lesser known and utilized therapies when it comes to treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it provides positive results that force the patient to reconnect with their self and take an active role in their entire healing process. Studies have shown that both well-being and happiness aid in the maintenance of a healthy mind and body. Energy healing focuses on regaining a positive attitude and self-awareness which reflect on the overall health of the individual.
The most common method of energy healing is meditation and whether it be finding a quiet area to focus on the day or making time to journal, developing the ability to be be mindful of the present increases the brains ability to decrease stress. Ultimately this results in an increase of serotonin levels. Since serotonin is associated with regulating mood, meditation may allow the brain to reverse and protect against a variety of mental health disorders (Young, 2011).
Another way to increase serotonin through energy healing is the power of positivity.
Similarly, just as negative thinking can cause adverse effects on health, a positive mindset can open up pathways to mental healing. One study was able to determine that maintaining a positive ideation was capable of reducing the frequency of negative and “worry related thoughts” (Eagleson, 2016). This is highly beneficial for veterans suffering from PTSD because not only can a positive mindset shift the focus away from anxiety, but it can aid in the increase of serotonin in the brain in the same manner as meditation.
Veterans who find it difficult to accept their new situation and struggle to find a way to open up may benefit from utilizing Bach Flower Remedies.
Dr. Bach discovered 38 different flower remedies that can be used to re-balance the different energies that each individual holds. Therefore, by utilizing the Bach Flower Remedies, the veteran could become aware of issues and find it in themselves to work towards correction. For Instance, things such as: a sudden onset of anxiety attacks (Aspen), being stuck in turmoil over the past (Honeysuckle), or sudden changes in mood that result in impatience or anger (Impatiens). Of course, these are just a few of the flower remedies that may provide aid in the connection of self and issue veterans with PTSD face. (Scheffer, 2001). Although energy healing techniques are not commonly utilized, they can provide the foundation a veteran can expand on to understand and aid in the healing of their PTSD.
As you can see, through numerous research and case studies, Integrative Medicine has been determined to be a valuable form of treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Clearly it gives veterans a variety of treatment options which allows them to take an active role in their healing process and minimize the need for the typical western medicine options of psychotherapy and prescription medications. Veterans can absolutely benefit most from these Complementary Alternative Medicinal therapies by combining modalities. And since no two veterans are the same, what benefits one veteran in reducing their symptoms and aiding in their healing process may not work for another veteran. Therefore it is important to utilize numerous therapies to see what works and what does not for each unique individual. Above all, the most beneficial way to create a holistic wellness plan for treating post-traumatic stress disorder with veterans is to work with practitioners who are well-educated on the specifics of each therapy.
Because when the focus shifts away from only the symptoms and targets the root causes, physical causes, and mental causes, only then can we as a society begin to really tackle the issues that occur as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Libretto, S., Hilton, L., Gordon, S., Zhang, J. (November, 2015). Effects of Integrative PTSD Treatment In a Military Health Setting. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment 7 (2), Pg. 33-44. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485330/
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- Gaeddert, A. (2002). Can Herbal Medicine Help People With Anxiety, Panic, and PTSD? The Townsend Letter: Ask the Herbalist. Retrieved from: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=ade
- Justice, L., Brems,C., & Ehlers, K. (October, 2016). Bridging Body and Mind: Considerations for Trauma-Informed Yoga. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Vol. 28 Issue 1. Pg 39-50. 12p. doi: 10.1776T1/2018-00017R2
- Kim, S., Doo, A., & Park, H. (November, 2011). Acupuncture Enhances the Synaptic Dopamine Availability to Improve Motor Function in a Mouse Model of Parkinson’s Disease. National Research Foundation of Korea. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222639/#__ffn_sectitle
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- Rose, K. M., Taylor, A. G., Bourguignon, C., Utz, S. W., & Goehler, L. E. (2008). Cranial electrical stimulation: potential use in reducing sleep and mood disturbances in persons with dementia and their family caregivers. Family & community health, 31(3), 240–246. doi:10.1097/01.FCH.0000324481.40459.69
- Scarff, J. (February, 2017). When to Consider Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation for Patients with PTSD. Alpha Stim. Retrieved from: https://www.alpha-stim.com/consider-cranial-electrotherapy-stimulation-patients-ptsd/
- Scheffer, M. (2011). The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy. Healing Arts Press. Rochester, VT.
- Young S. N. (2011). Biologic effects of mindfulness meditation: growing insights into neurobiologic aspects of the prevention of depression. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 36(2), 75–77. doi:10.1503/jpn.110010