This post was written for a client starting a military-themed apparel company that donated a part of their proceeds to veteran-related charities. They wanted their blog to have relatable, useful information for their (mostly veteran and active military) customers. While the business is no longer around, this piece is a great example of my ability to quickly learn about a new topic and present information in a clear, understandable format. If you'd like to see the research that went into creating this piece, just let me know.
The Latest PTSD Research: Love Drug, Subclinical PTSD & Video Games
PTSD has been in the news a lot lately, from the PAWS Act that would pair veterans with PTSD with service dogs, to a widespread study in Canada on the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD sufferers. But what are the latest findings as far as research for treating and coping with post-traumatic stress disorder? And how can this research help you or a loved one?
Love Drug & PTSD
A new study shows that oxytocin - the hormone important for social bonding and commonly called the “love drug” - could be useful in treating PTSD patients. Patients with PTSD can have increased anxiety, emotional outbursts and impaired ability to feel or give love, which makes social situations challenging, to say the least. Those treated with oxytocin had a marked increase in compassion for others as well as improved social skills. Though more research and testing still need to be done, researchers indicate this could be a promising treatment option for those suffering from PTSD. While we’re waiting for the love drug to be available for treating PTSD, one of the easiest ways you can increase your own oxytocin levels is by hugging someone you love. Seriously. Try to hug someone and not feel just a little bit better.
Good news for those that fall just below the diagnosis threshold for PTSD, but suffer many of the same symptoms. Those with, what doctors call, subclinical PTSD still re-experience traumatic events but don’t necessarily suffer from both hyperarousal (easily startled, quick to anger) and avoidance (withdrawing from social situations). Since subclinical PTSD patients don’t fall into the standard PTSD category until now there hasn’t been a specific standard for treatment.
A recent study from the Medical University of South Carolina shows those with subclinical PTSD actually respond better to psychotherapy than those with diagnosed PTSD. Over eight-week experiments, subclinical PTSD patients and PTSD patients engaged in a variety of therapies - those with subclinical PTSD saw their symptoms drop by almost 30% while those with PTSD saw only a 14% decrease in symptoms.
These results are good news for subclinical PTSD as it could lead to increased treatment, but the implications of these results go beyond that. Since PTSD symptoms often get worse over time, subclinical PTSD could really be called “early-stage” PTSD - treating subclinical PTSD could prevent more severe cases of PTSD that can occur when symptoms go untreated. Turns out the old saying is true - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Yoga, Acupuncture & Video Games
For those looking for alternative ways to support and complement PTSD treatments, a new literature review of the past decade of clinical research, supports the use of yoga, acupuncture and virtual reality. Veterans that participated in a six-week trial of yoga showed significant improvement in both hyperarousal and sleep-related symptoms. Another ten-week study showed that yoga significantly reduced PTSD symptoms, returning a sense of control to participants. Researchers point to three main aspects of yoga that are all known to improve PTSD symptoms: social interaction, physical activity, and meditation. There are tons of free resources out there that can connect you to a yoga studio or online resources, specifically designed for veterans. Trust the research, try some yoga!
Until recently well designed, controlled studies of the effects of acupuncture on PTSD were hard to come by. Luckily new studies have shown that veterans treated with acupuncture (in this case during a 12-week study) showed significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, including depression, pain, and overall physical and mental health. For those not excited about getting stuck with needles, another form of alternative therapy might be a little more familiar - virtual reality exposure therapy a.k.a. video games.
Video games (under the supervision of a therapist or other qualified practitioner) have long been used as part of an effective PTSD treatment regimen and have recently gotten an extra boost in credibility from another literature review that looked at studies since the mid-1990s. Using video games as part of a treatment plan has shown a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms, with some trials reporting a 90% reduction in overall symptoms and an 83% decrease in depression. Another small study of 20 active duty participants showed such positive results that 16 of the 20 no longer met the clinical criteria for PTSD. While these results are limited due to the small number of participants, the findings are still encouraging as another approach to treating PTSD. Which means you have a medical reason to stop reading and get back to your video game!