Depression, also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a common mental health disorder. It was estimated that 5% of adults suffer from clinical depression, which makes a whopping 280 million people living with the disorder. (1)
The prevalence of depression is on the rise. Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, depression, and anxiety were the leading causes of global health-related burden. The pandemic alone has triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of depression and anxiety worldwide. Apart from this, personal conflicts, abuse, medications, grief, genetics, serious illnesses, and substance abuse can also lead to depression.
People living with depression find themselves exhausted, overwhelmingly anxious or sad, hopeless and empty. They also experience difficulty in sleeping, loss of appetite, headache, and chronic pain.
There are many treatments available for depression. While antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRIs) are safe and well-tolerated, other medications such as Tricyclic anti-depressants (TCA) tend to cause more side effects. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) have serious side effects and have many dangerous interactions even with food.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves speaking with a trained therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. While talk therapy is generally used in combination with medication it has its own set of drawbacks. Some may experience worsening of their depressive symptoms and others may be dependent on their therapist.
A combination of medication, psychotherapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective for most people with depression. However, it is estimated that 10-30% of people with depression do not respond to typical anti-depressant medications. (2, 3)
Supplementing conventional treatment options for depression with alternative modalities can enhance its outcomes. One such alternative modality that has shown beneficial effects in mental health disorders is Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. Using PEMF for anxiety and depression is gaining momentum and has shown promising results.
This article here will discuss the use of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy for depression. We will also dive into the research on PEMF and if it is safe for you to consider.
What Is PEMF And What Are Its Health Benefits?
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy or PEMF is the use of electromagnetic waves to promote cellular health and revive the body’s natural mechanism of healing.
The magnetic waves generated by PEMF devices influence cellular electrical changes. They realign the electricity in your cells and impact cellular metabolism. The electromagnetic waves stimulate the cells allowing an influx of positive charge. This positively charges the cell surface triggering another electrical current to change into pulses.
The human body requires electricity to send signals to different parts of the body. The generation of electrical pulses by PEMF affects how the body sends signals. Disruption in signaling can lead to disorders like depression. PEMF therapy restores any interruptions in signaling pathways and promotes wellness.
PEMF is also known to enhance the regeneration of nerve fibers. They also have a stimulatory effect on intracellular tyrosine kinase activity. Tyrosine kinases are important mediators of signal transduction. They regulate cell function including cell to cell signaling.
Apart from improving cellular functions, health and communication, PEMF therapy also promotes healing. It reduces pain and swelling, restores damaged tissues, boosts immunity, and fixes hormonal imbalances. The use of PEMF therapy is also beneficial in mood fluctuation, sleep disorders, and managing stress.
What Does Science Say About PEMF Therapy For Depression?
A 2010 double-blind study evaluated the effects of trans-cranial low voltage pulsed electromagnetic fields in patients with treatment-resistant depression. The PEMF treatment was delivered in the form of a helmet containing seven separate coils. This was placed over the head and generated a low-magnitude electrical field. The study reported that trans-cranial PEMF was superior to placebo treatment in patients who were resistant to conventional treatment with anti-depression medication. (4)
A randomized controlled study aimed to investigate the effect of PEMF on depression, anxiety, pain, disability, and quality of life in patients with the herniation of the cervical vertebral disc. This 2019 study reported a significant improvement in neck pain, anxiety, depression, and quality of life with 12 weeks of PEMF therapy as compared to hot pack and TENS (Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation). (5)
A recent study conducted by the Danish university anti-depressant group also evaluated PEMF in treatment-resistant depression. This 8-week multicenter study conducted in 2020 evaluated 58 patients with moderate to severe depression who fulfilled the criteria for treatment resistance. The double-blind randomized study reported that a proportion of patients with treatment-resistant depression benefited from add-on treatment with PEMF. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy can also augment the antidepressant effects on ongoing pharmacotherapy. (6)
A randomized controlled trial from Harvard University showed that there was a substantial improvement (>10%) in mood following low field magnetic stimulation in patients with major depressive disorder. The study subjects received a single 20 minutes treatment with PEMF and the change in mood was assessed immediately following therapy. (7)
Depression and anxiety go hand in hand and one condition can easily trigger the other one. It is believed that nearly half of those people with major depressive disorders also suffer from severe and persistent anxiety.
A 20113 clinical trial applied PEMF therapy to generate changes in the Electroencephalogram (EEG) of the brain. EEG is a test that detects brain wave activity (electrical signals produced by the brain). A higher EEG is observed in patients with anxiety and the application of 9 minutes of PEMF therapy has been shown to decrease EEG frequency. (8)
How Does PEMF Therapy Improve Symptoms Of Depression?
PEMF therapy can stimulate the brain using pulsating magnetic fields. It can improve symptoms of depression in many different ways.
The electromagnetic waves generated from PEMF devices can improve blood circulation in the brain. They are even known to improve neurochemical imbalances that can be a cause of depression. (9, 10)
PEMF therapy can balance happiness hormones like serotonin and dopamine by enhancing nutrient intake and cellular respiration. This can make people living with depression feel optimistic, serene, and calm. They are also responsible for making you feel energized, motivated and excited.
Depressive states are associated with the deregulation of fibroblast growth factor receptors in the front part of the brain. PEMF therapy has a stimulatory effect on fibroblast growth factor activity. (11)
Inflammation of the brain can also bring about depression and anxiety. PEMF therapy has shown anti-inflammatory activity in many parts of the body including the brain. It can also alter glucose metabolism in the areas of the brain linked with anxiety and depression. (12)
People with depression can experience physical symptoms like headaches, chronic pain, and digestive issues. PEMF therapy has been proven to reduce the release of pain mediators.
Sleep problems are one of the keys symptoms of clinical depression. Insomnia, narcolepsy, and other conditions that interrupt sleep (like sleep movement disorders and sleep apnea) are linked with depression.
PEMF therapy administers low-frequency waves that mimic the brain's electrical frequency during sleep. This helps to reboot the brain, relieve fatigue, reduce stress, and increase relaxation all of which promote better sleep. (13)
What Are The Advantages Of PEMF Devices For Depression?
The PEMF therapy advantages for depression are:
- It is a safe, non-invasive, and effective treatment option. The waves generated by PEMF devices are even lower than those produced by our cellular mobile phones.
- PEMF therapy has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
- It doesn’t place you at risk for unwanted side effects, unlike pharmaceutical drugs.
- The conventional therapy for depression may take several months or years to achieve significant improvement in mental wellbeing. PEMF is an alternative option with quicker results.
- Regular at-home PEMF therapy is easier to fit into your schedule. The benefits of the therapy can also be enjoyed for a long time.
What Are The Side Effects?
There are very few treatment-emergent side effects associated with the use of PEMF therapy for depression. Some of them are:
- Mild transient nausea
- It can decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and sugar levels.
- A temporary increase in pain levels
How To Use a PEMF Device For Depression?
PEMF can be applied using applicators such as PEMF pads or pillows. It can even be used in the form of helmet devices that contain coils to send signals to the brain.
Always start PEMF therapy after consulting your mental health care provider. The use of these devices (either as an alternative to conventional anti-depression therapy or as a supplement to it) should be done after a proper medical evaluation.
Depression can have a debilitating impact on daily life. PEMF therapy may prove to be a better alternative than some of the current treatment modalities for depression. PEMF can travel deep into the brain and is considered to be the next-generation electrotherapy modality. It has a simple, safe contact-less approach and higher effectiveness in depression and anxiety. Consider PEMF therapy if you or your loved ones with depression have not benefited from earlier treatments.
- Al-Harbi, Khalid Saad. “Treatment-resistant depression: therapeutic trends, challenges, and future directions.” Patient preference and adherence vol. 6 (2012): 369-88. doi:10.2147/PPA.S29716
- Klatte, Rahel et al. “Adverse effects of psychotherapy: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Systematic reviews vol. 7,1 135. 8 Sep. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13643-018-0802-x
- Martiny, Klaus et al. “Transcranial low voltage pulsed electromagnetic fields in patients with treatment-resistant depression.” Biological psychiatry vol. 68,2 (2010): 163-9. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.017
- Hattapoğlu, Erkam et al. “Efficiency of pulsed electromagnetic fields on pain, disability, anxiety, depression, and quality of life in patients with cervical disc herniation: a randomized controlled study.” Turkish Journal of medical sciences vol. 49,4 1095-1101. 8 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3906/sag-1901-65
- Larsen, Erik Roj et al. “Transcranial pulsed electromagnetic fields for treatment-resistant depression: A multicenter 8-week single-arm cohort study.” European psychiatry: the journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists vol. 63,1 e18. 18 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.3
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- Amirifalah, Zeinab et al. “Local exposure of brain central areas to a pulsed ELF magnetic field for a purposeful change in EEG.” Clinical EEG and neuroscience vol. 44,1 (2013): 44-52. doi:10.1177/1550059412460164
- Rikk, János et al. “Influence of pulsing electromagnetic field therapy on resting blood pressure in aging adults.” Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine vol. 32,2 (2013): 165-72. doi:10.3109/15368378.2013.776420
- Udupa, Kaviraja et al. “Modulation of cardiac autonomic functions in patients with major depression treated with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.” Journal of affective disorders vol. 104,1-3 (2007): 231-6. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2007.04.002
- Gómez-Ochoa, Ignacio et al. “Pulsed electromagnetic fields decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion (IL-1β and TNF-α) on human fibroblast-like cell culture.” Rheumatology international vol. 31,10 (2011): 1283-9. doi:10.1007/s00296-010-1488-0
- Pelka, R B et al. “Impulse magnetic-field therapy for insomnia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Advances in therapy vol. 18,4 (2001): 174-80. doi:10.1007/BF02850111