Acupuncture for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Since the early nineties, studies around the globe have suggested that treating depression with acupuncture has a positive and holistic effect on depressed patients, particularly when used in combination with psychotherapy and herbal treatments.

By stimulating certain acupuncture points, the sites where the needles are inserted, the body releases cerebral serotonin. Cerebral serotonin has anti-depressant and analgesic effects (Chen, 1992). This release of serotonin results in mental relaxation, the desired result for many who suffer from stress or stress induced headaches.

Research indicates the therapeutic value of acupuncture in the management of stress, anxiety, depression as well as their associated health problems. Acupuncture can help boost the mood lifting chemicals, and the sympathetic nerve activity which reduces stress. Excess stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system by chronic stress is known to cause excessive release of stress hormones like cortisol which can interfere with mood enhancing chemicals like serotonin and leave us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other related problems. Further research has shown that when the levels of serotonin fall, the sympathetic nervous system becomes sensitive and more easily triggered by stress. (Traditional Chinese Medicine (1994) 14: 14-18, quoted in Proof, Autumn 1997)

Study on Depression

Psychologist John Allen, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer, conducted the very first pilot controlled study on treating depression symptoms with acupuncture in the Western scientific world.

The study findings suggest that using acupuncture alone could be as effective as other types of treatments for relieving depression symptoms typically used in Western medicine, such as psychotherapy and drugs.

The United Nations World Health Organization has approved acupuncture as a treatment for depression.

(Allen, J. J. B. (2000). Depression and acupuncture: a controlled clinical trial. Psychiatric Times Online, 22, 3.)
(Tian, C. H. (2002). Acupuncture treatment for depression. New England Journal of Traditional Medicine, 1, 4-7.)

Study on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying events like violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

Michael Hollifield, M.D., and colleagues conducted a clinical trial examining the effect of acupuncture on the symptoms of PTSD. The researchers analyzed depression, anxiety, and impairment in 73 people with a diagnosis of PTSD. The researchers found that acupuncture provided treatment effects similar to group cognitive-behavioral therapy; both interventions were superior to the control group. Additionally, treatment effects of both the acupuncture and the group therapy were maintained for 3 months after the end of treatment.

Michael Hollifield, Nityamo Sinclair-Lian, Teddy D. Warner, and Richard Hammerschlag, “Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.”The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, June 2007.

The National Institute of Mental Health has more information on PTSD: