Acupuncture and Depression

Does Acupuncture help depression

One of the more common questions I continue to hear is “Does acupuncture help with depression and anxiety?”

The short answer is “Absolutely, yes!”

According to the Western medical model, clinical depression is based on experiencing at least five of the following symptoms for a two-week period, or longer:

§ Depressed mood for a majority of the day,

§ Significant decrease in interest of previously pleasurable activities,

§ Significant weight gain or weight loss that was unintended,

§ Insomnia, inability to sleep or excessive desire to sleep,

§ Fatigue or loss of energy, including feelings of being worthless (includes feelings of excessive guilt),

§ Psycho-motor agitation or retardation (pacing, wringing one’s hands, etc.),

§ Diminished ability to think or concentrate,

§ Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death, or attempted suicide.

The most common medications prescribed to treat these symptoms are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressant drugs that help to increase serotonin, a chemical responsible for communication between nerves in the brain. SSRIs include, but are not limited to, fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), estialapram (Lexapro) and fluvoxamine (Luvox).In addition to the negative side-effects many experience while taking these drugs, SSRI withdrawal syndrome also referred to SSRI Discontinuation syndrome has been shown to affect individuals who abruptly discontinue SSRI’s. Common withdrawal effects include: dizziness or lightheadedness, vertigo, unstable gait, headache, fatigue, insomnia, bizarre or unsettling dreams, confusion, poor concentration and memory, gastrointestinal distress, electric shock sensations, anxiety and irritability.

In my practice, I frequently see patients who say they are looking into acupuncture “as a last resort”. Most are looking for something other than long-term use of medications and who want to feel better without all these adverse side-effects. Acupuncture, including Chinese herbal medicine, is a safe, effective treatment that effectively addresses feelings of depression and anxiety without the unwanted negative effects.

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes the use of herbal medicine and dietary therapy, has been practiced for thousands of years. Emotional presentations cannot be separated from the physical body, and vice-versa, according to Chinese medicine. Therefore, treating the physical body directly impacts the emotional symptoms.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, written over 2300 years ago, discussed the etiology of depression. Mental or emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the result of an imbalance or blockage in one or more of the internal organs and their corresponding meridians (energy pathways).

Deficient or excessive emotions will affect specific organs. Not to be interpreted too literally, the following chart simplifies these relationships.

Emotion: Organs and merdians affected:






Lungs and Spleen


(excessive worry, obsessive thoughts)



Lungs and Heart



Shock (Trauma)

Kidneys and Heart

Deficient symptoms may include: fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss or low body weight, insomnia. Postpartum depression is frequently due to excessive loss of blood resulting in Qi (vital energy – pronounced “chee”) and blood deficiency. Similarly, menopausal symptoms are often due to deficiencies of Qi, blood and yin.

Excess symptoms may present as: mania, weight gain, anxiety and irritability or agitation.

Anxiety and depression are more often than not a combination of both deficient and excess symptoms.

In contrast to being prescribed a medicine to “relieve” symptoms, an acupuncturist will complete a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnosis which may contain patterns such as: Liver Qi stagnation; Spleen Qi deficiency; Kidney essence deficiency; Lung-Heart meridian disharmony; Kidney-Heart meridian disharmony. Treatments to address these patterns would include: smooth Liver Qi; Tonify or strengthen Spleen Qi, etc. The most effective treatments include the use of acupuncture, herbal formulas and dietary modifications.

Acupuncture – the actual insertion of very fine needles into specific points on these meridians – can open these blocked pathways and allow Qi and blood to flow smoothly again. Most people report feeling incredibly relaxed after their needles have been inserted. Chinese herbal formulas work in union with acupuncture to smooth or balance the health of the internal organs and pathways. True Chinese medicine views the foods we eat as an integral part of the healing process. Altering your diet to add and or increase beneficial foods while eliminating those that continue to injure, should be addressed for almost any imbalance.

It should be noted that acupuncture works most quickly and effectively when used early in the progression of a disease or symptoms. Long-term depression, including bipolar depression, may take regular treatments of 6-12 months, or more, before balance is restored. The earlier the problem is addressed, the speedier the recovery. Someone experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety for less than one year can usually expect a much quicker response.

If you think you may be dealing with feelings of depression or anxiety, and are interested in returning to a state of balance and health naturally, I would love to help you achieve that goal.

Please remember to ask if your acupuncturist has completed their Oriental or Chinese Medicine degree and is nationally licensed as an acupuncturist. A complete study of Chinese medicine and herbs is vital to effectively practicing this medicine.

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