May 24, 2024

Acupuncture for Depression – Does it Work?

Acupuncture falls within the category of alternative medicine.  The claim is that acupuncture treats a comprehensive range of ailments and promotes a natural form of healing.  The practice originated in Chinese culture, and can be traced back to antiquity.  Practitioners of acupuncture are called acupuncturists.  During treatment, they insert super-fine sterile needles into the patient’s skin at various so-called acupuncture points.

How does Acupuncture Work

It is thought that stimulation of the acupuncture points, otherwise known as acupoints, can re-balance the movement of qi (also called chi) energy along “channels” in the body called meridians.  Acupuncturists say that qi energizes and nourishes all of the cells, glands, organs, tissues and muscles of the body.  By correcting qi imbalances, symptoms are relieved and good health is restored.  Depression is one of many disorders that acupuncture is said to relieve.

Treating Depression with Acupuncture

Acupuncturists treat each patient that presents with depression on an individual and holistic basis because no two depressed patients will have the exact set of symptoms.  Acupuncture is not a one-treatment-fits-all protocol, and an approach that might be right for one depressed patient might not be suitable for another.  With conventional medicine, all patients are prescribed one of a number of prescription antidepressants, albeit in varying dosages.  Acupuncturists, by contrast, look at the patient’s physical symptoms, along with the emotional and psychological symptoms of depression, to determine an individualized therapy.

Acupuncture treatment for depression typically consists of one or two therapeutic sessions each week.  Succeeding treatments have a cumulative effect:  one treatment builds on the other.  As the symptoms are relieved, treatment is tapered off then ceased.

The procedure is claimed to be safe, and, according to a Wikipedia article, it usually is safe when done by fully-trained and experienced acupuncturists.  Nevertheless, it is not without risks, so if acupuncture is used to treat depression care should be taken to make sure the acupuncturist is experienced.

How Does Acupuncture Treat Depression

There does not appear to be a clear consensus on just how acupuncture treats depression.  Researchers who undertook a study that was funded by the National Institutes for Health concluded that acupuncture might have a positive impact on brain chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters.

Another school of thought is that stress causes the blockage of qi, and this blockage leads to depression.  When acupuncture is used to treat the stress, depression is relieved.

Does Acupuncture Work for Depression?

There is a wide body of literature that makes the claim for acupuncture as a viable treatment for depression.  Based on the evidence from various studies and trials that confirm acupuncture’s efficacy, some health and academic agencies support the procedure wholeheartedly, and others give qualified endorsements.  There are also detractors, however.

A Danish research institute assessed the evidence supporting acupuncture as a treatment for depression and other conditions.  Their finding was that there is no conclusive evidence to support acupuncture’s ability to successfully treat depression.  As far as the research institute is concerned, additional research is needed.

Recent Studies on Acupuncture Treatment for Depression

In 2011, the results of a study conducted at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that acupuncture has therapeutic value in the treatment of depression.  During the course of the research, patients were treated once or twice each week.   At the end of the study, researchers rated acupuncture favorably for safety, effectiveness and tolerance by the body.  They recommended further, well-controlled studies.

Details of a study in 2010 at the Stanford University School of Medicine website appear to give some support to the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for depression in pregnant women.  Many women either develop depression during pregnancy or their depression return because they stop taking medication out of concern for the developing fetuses.  The results from the Stanford researchers’ study showed that pregnant women who were treated with acupuncture reported a greater level of relief when compared to the control groups.

The Benefits of Acupuncture as a Treatment for Depression versus Prescription Drugs

Acupuncturists point to a number of reasons why treating depression with acupuncture is a better alternative to the use of prescription drugs.  According to the website of a Dr.  Daniel Lee of Irvine, California, acupuncture trumps medication on several levels:


  • Quicker results are obtained with acupuncture.  Prescription anti-depressant drugs require a period of one to three months before their benefits are felt fully.  Acupuncture, by contrast, is said to relieve depression within one to two weeks of treatment.
  • Because acupuncture treatment does not involve drugs of any kind, there is no danger of drug addiction or dependence, and there are no adverse side effects.
  • Relief is said to be long-lasting, even after treatment ends.
  • When compared to the long-term cost of prescription drugs and medical bills, acupuncture treatment is shown to be much more cost-effective.

It is difficult to say definitively that acupuncture does or does not treat depression effectively because the reviews and conclusions are mixed or qualified.  Is self-report a dependable basis on which to make medical claims? How large a part does the placebo effect play?  Because so many of the studies recommend additional research, it would seem that the jury is still deliberating on whether acupuncture works for treatment of depression.
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