Anxiety and depression are difficult issues to solve. They can be caused by physical problems like a high sugar diet, neurotransmitter imbalance, gut issues, lack of sleep, emotional issues or life stressors, among just a few reasons.

Getting to the bottom of these issues can be tough for patients. This is because anxiety and depression can lead to fatigue, lack of motivation and hopelessness. In turn, these bring additional challenges to problem solving and healing. Additionally, anxiety and depression can take a long time to heal, and often people have a hard time sticking to a healing program if they don’t see quick and lasting results.

Medications like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are popularly prescribed to treat anxiety and/or depression issues, but they have many drawbacks.

First are the side effects, which can be different for everyone. It can include weight gain, indigestion, dizziness, headaches, loss of libido, and ironically, in a few cases, suicidal thoughts. SSRIs are also hard on the liver, but their biggest drawbacks is how long they take to work. It takes about 6 weeks on average, give or take a week or two.

A fast-acting treatment would give patients the relief, energy, and inspiration to slowly tackle difficult lifestyle changes that make the biggest impact on symptoms in the long term.

New Treatment for Depression: Low-field Magnetic Stimulation

A treatment that works fast and has few side effects is the ideal solution. However, it hasn’t existed until recently. But research into the field of magnetic stimulation has proved promising in recent testing. A procedure called “low-field magnetic stimulation” has shown mood improvement after the first use.

This can make a world of a difference for someone suffering the heavy, demotivating pain of depression or anxiety. As of yet, no side effects have been reported. Read more about this promising and potentially life-saving procedure in the article below.

Immediate Mood Improvement

Individuals with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder who receive low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) show immediate and substantial mood improvement, McLean Hospital researchers report in the Aug. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

“LFMS is unlike any current treatment. It uses magnetic fields that are a fraction of the strength but at a higher frequency than the electromagnetic fields used in TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] and ECT [electroconvulsive therapy],” explained first author Michael Rohan, a physicist at McLean Hospital’s Brain Imaging Center and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

According to Rohan, although other brain stimulation treatments like ECT and TMS are often effective for the treatment of depression, they typically take longer to impact mood, and ECT is associated with side effects such as memory loss.

Similarly, while antidepressant medications can be highly effective for treating depression, it can take between four to six weeks before mood changes are detected.

Good for Emergencies

“Importantly, LFMS appears to have an immediate effect on mood and thus has the potential to provide relief in emergency situations,” explained Rohan, who first reported the potential use of LFMS to treat depression in a groundbreaking study in 2004. “In addition to providing quick relief from symptoms, the other exciting piece about LFMS is that no side effects have been observed.”

The Process

Researchers used a portable tabletop LFMS device that Rohan designed. They studied 63 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 65. All participants had been diagnosed with either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. They had also been on a regimen of antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications for at least six weeks. Of the study participants, 34 actively received LFMS. The other 29 went through the process but did not actually receive any brain stimulation. Neither the patients nor the researchers knew which participants had actually received the treatment. This way, they could measure the true effect of LFMS.

Before and after the single 20-minute treatment, each participant rated his or her mood. They used two common self-assessment tools: a visual analog scale and the positive and negative affect schedule. Participants who received the LFMS treatment indicated a marked improvement in their mood. On the other hand, those with unstimulated brains reported no change in mood.

The Results

“We observed immediate improvement in mood following relatively brief exposure to LFMS,” noted Rohan. “Although we need larger research studies, we think LFMS could be a powerful tool as a rapidly acting treatment for depression, either alone or in combination with medication.”

Biological Psychiatry also published commentary from experts on brain stimulation commending Rohan’s work on LFMS. They said that it is exciting and shows great promise.

“If the results described in this study are replicated in larger studies and the effects are shown to be durable, LFMS would be a welcome addition to the clinical armamentarium in the treatment of depression, may find application in other psychiatric and neurologic diseases, and may help to inform and guide us toward future directions in neuromodulation,” wrote Mouhsin Shafi, Philip Stern, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone.

According to Rohan, additional research is already underway to find the best parameters for LFMS use in the clinical treatment of depression. He has also started a research study to evaluate the effects of multiple rather than single treatments. He’s also looking into measuring how long the antidepressant effects last following treatment.

McLean Hospital is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.