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Using Biofeedback With Alpha-Stim Part 1

Publication date: 13 December 2013

In my therapy and coaching practice I use the Alpha-Stim Cranial Electro-stimulation device as an adjunct to biofeedback. This post explains why.

Alpha-Stim is a brain stimulation device, FDA-approved for depression, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. Alpha-Stim has been around since the 1980's and in that time a substantial body of research has accumulated in support of its efficacy (for depression, anxiety, insomnia and more). It's very easy to use, and very safe.

I was persuaded to invest in Alpha-Stim devices (for renting to my clients) by the quality of the research results. For more information, see the Alpha-Stim website research section. The images below show the results of just two studies - there are well over a hundred in all.

Anxiety Study Depression Study

(Thanks to Jeff Marksberry of EPI for providing the above images.)

I think it forms a valuable adjunct to biofeedback because its strengths complement those of biofeedback. I rent out to my clients both biofeedback devices and Alpha-Stim units, and clients appreciate the cost-effective home use combination. While biofeedback is a learning-based method, requiring active participation, Alpha-Stim requires no effort - you connect the device, turn it on, and then you can get on with other things. I think skills-based solutions are essential for anxiety because so often the problem is not knowing how to handle emotions in their mental and physical manifestations, and even marking things worse by inappropriate attempts at control.  But equally, people appreciate the effortlessness of Alpha-Stim - especially for something like insomnia where over-control is an easy trap to fall into.

How Does Alpha-Stim Work?

Alpha Stim is a cranial electro-stimulation (CES) device. You connect it to the ear lobes and it delivers a tiny electrical current with a complex, unique patented wave-form (or shape). Sessions take 20 minutes or more.

The exact mechanism for Alpha-Stim's beneficial effects is not known, and indeed there may be several mechanisms. Research shows:

  • The alpha component of the brain's EEG increases in amplitude. Alpha brainwaves are associated with relaxed awareness.
  • Serotonin levels in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) (which bathes the brain) increase by up to 200%. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with well-being and positive mood.
  • Beta endorphins (a feel-good brain chemical) also increased in CFS.

Alpha-Stim and Biofeedback

A study was done comparing the effects of biofeedback with and without Alpha-Stim in combination, for migraine sufferers. The results showed biofeedback to be significantly more effective when used with Alpha-Stim.

Biofeedback Study

Unfortunately the study didn't compare the combination to Alpha-Stim alone. My bet is that the combination would have been more effective again.

In the study the researchers used thermal (skin temperature) biofeedback - probably not the most powerful modality in my opinion.

I'd love to see a similar study looking at anxiety rather than migraines - I think anxiety is biofeedback's best application. And I'd like to other biofeedback modalities used, such as HRV. In part 2 of this piece on Alpha-Stim, I'll consider my personal experience of using Alpha Stim in combination with HRV biofeedback.

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