In the US, according to recent statistics, more than 20% of people will experience depression at some point throughout their life, and 31% of adults will develop some kind of anxiety disorder, whether mild or severe. Both anxiety and depression can be debilitating, impacting ability to work as well as overall quality of life.

Conventional treatments don’t always work long term, which is why more and more people are turning to PEMF therapy for depression. When using conventional treatments, relapse rates for depressed patients who experience improvement are between 37 and 70% within the first year. And many people don’t respond to this type of conventional treatment at all. If three different treatment trials have not shown any improvement, people are said to be treatment-resistant, and have run out of effective options. Are they left, then, to simply live with their anxiety or depression?

Delayed effects pose problems

The current therapies available for treatment-resistant depression and anxiety, including prescription drugs, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), rTMS (high intensity transcranial magnetic stimulation), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) all take time to be effective. Treatments like ECT, rTMS, and CBT all can require many sessions to see results and must be applied in clinical settings. While an appropriate number of sessions may well have the desired impact eventually, these sessions are often expensive and may not be covered by insurance, requiring significant out of pocket investment.

Prescriptions often take 4-6 weeks to show clinically relevant results, and because people all tolerate drugs differently, it can take a long time to determine the right dosage and/or combination of medications. Many come with serious side effects, and can be addictive – particularly in patients with a prior history of substance abuse.

The amount of time it takes to feel better with these conventional treatments can leave those suffering from depression or anxiety in a very vulnerable place. When symptoms are severe, the first few weeks of therapy can include a higher risk of suicide.

PEMF therapy is a safe, alternative option that can produce rapid short-term results that often carry over into long term benefits. PEMF devices are available to purchase for daily home use, making treatment easy and convenient. And because PEMF mats can be used by all members of a household, for a variety of general health maintenance issues, these machines are a solid investment.

Does PEMF therapy work on anxiety and depression?

There has been a fair amount of research conducted on the benefits of PEMFs for brain related conditions, including mood disorders. PEMF has been demonstrated to be even more effective than antidepressants. In the US and Canada, PEMF therapy has been approved by the FDA as treatment for depression.1

One study, out of Harvard Medical School, is especially interesting. In this high-quality study, researchers

In their research they developed a PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) device using 1000 Hz (1 KHz), square/trapezoidal wave signal and 20 Gauss maximum field intensity. This design is similar to that used in an MR spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) procedure, where, by accident, they discovered that bipolar depressed (BPD) patients having the procedure had significant rapid improvement of their symptoms. Because of this very positive experience they developed a separate device to study its effects in depressed individuals.

In their double blind sham controlled study (the optimal clinical study design), there was greater than 10% significant improvement in mood with only one 20 minute treatment in 41 patients with BPD and 22 with major depressive disorder (MDD), when all the data were combined across the two groups. All the patients were on stable medication for at least six weeks and were having a current depression episode. In other words, based on these results this PEMF signal is likely to be helpful across a range of forms of depression. One of the findings that really intrigued me was in looking at some sub-scores on the Hamilton scale. There were obvious improvements in guilt, ability to work and life interest, and some components of anxiety. Since anxiety very frequently accompanies depression, this signal likely helps both depression and anxiety.

How this form of PEMF stimulation works to relieve mood issues is still unclear. The mode of action is believed to very different from the higher intensity PEMF systems and deep brain electrical stimulation (an invasive procedure). These systems likely cause brain neurons to be dramatically less active or excitable. The above lower intensity system likely provides its benefit by causing neurons to vibrate at the frequency of the PEMF. This stimulation affects the electrical activity of neurons, that then change the neuronal networks that change the areas of the brain that control mood. These fields also appear to affect the glucose metabolism of regions of the brain that are involved in depression and anxiety. These regional changes have been mapped in the brain extensively by neuroscientists and have been found by neurofeedback practitioners to change even with very weak PEMFs.

How does PEMF therapy work to relieve mood disorders?

Research has shown that PEMF therapy stimulates the brain, improving circulation and modifying neuro-chemical imbalances that cause depression.4 PEMF treatment can also boost intake of nutrients and balance hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol. The anti-inflammatory actions of PEMF therapy on brain tissue can calm brain inflammation, which impacts stress, depression and anxiety. Just a couple of weeks of proper treatment with PEMFs can reset the brain, allowing the proper signals to get through.

Regular treatment – what intensity and frequency? For best results either high intensity local TeslaFit systems, which are like the professional level devices for treatment resistant depression, can be used with local applicators to the head for between 30 to 60 minutes at a time, up to twice a day. These may not be used as often as may be needed and therefore, lower intensity FlexPulse treatments can be used, instead of or alongside the TeslaFit devices, at either 10 Hz, 7.8 Hz or 1000 Hz. The FlexPulse can be used for hours at a time and even throughout the night. Since sleep is often disturbed in people with anxiety and depression, the 3 Hz program in the FlexPulse may be used throughout the night on the pillow, under the head.

Obviously, individuals with these disorders need to continue to receive care from a doctor, even if a PEMF system is considered for home use.

1. References:
Effectiveness and acceptability of accelerated repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder: an open label trial. McGirr A, Van den, Tovar-Perdomo S, Fleck M, Berlim M. J Affect Disord. 2015;173:216-220.

2. Rapid mood-elevating effects of low field magnetic stimulation in depression. Rohan ML, Yamamoto RT, Ravichandran CT, Cayetano KR, Morales OG, Olson DP, Vitaliano G, Paul SM, Cohen BM. Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Aug 1;76(3):186-93.

3. Harvard Medical School, 2007. National Comorbidity Survey (NCS). (2017, August 21). Retrieved from Data Table 1: Lifetime prevalence DSM-IV/WMH-CIDI disorders by sex and cohort.

4. Udupa K, Sathyaprabha T, Thirthalli J, Kishore K, Raju T, Gangadhar B. Modulation of cardiac autonomic functions in patients with major depression treated with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. J Affect Disord. 2007;104(1-3):231-236. [PubMed]

Author's Bio: 

Dr. William Pawluk is an international medical expert in the medical use of electromagnetic fields (PEMFs), with over 27 years experience. He has had academic appointments at Johns Hopkins and U of Maryland, co-hosted a natural medicine radio show for over 10 years, has appeared on The Dr OZ Show, written and done interviews and lectures on magnetics, conducted research on the use of various kinds of PEMFs on pain, wound healing, concussion, etc., and teaches professionals and consults regularly with the public on the use of magnetic therapies. He has an authoritative website, and published the book Power Tools for Health, reviewing the science and various therapy options.