January 27, 2016

Acupuncture: Effective in Treatment of Depression

Depression is a common mental health problem. It affects people in all walks of life, in all different circumstances and from all different backgrounds. It is estimated that approximately 2/3 of all adults will struggle with depression at some point during their lifetimes and that the depression will be serious enough to negatively impact their daily lives (1,2).

The symptoms of depression can include:

  • Sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, irritability or frustration, impatience
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities once enjoyed
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Appetite changes
  • Anxiety, agitation, worry or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness and helplessness
  • Poor concentration, difficulty making decisions
  • Memory problems
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches–adapted from the Mayo Clinic’s information at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/con-20032977
Abacus Chinese Medicine, Louisville, KY
Acupuncture is effective in treating depression.

Acupuncture vs. Anti-depressants

Treatment for depression in Western medicine has relied heavily on anti-depressant medication for the majority of cases and talk therapy as an adjunctive treatment. Research using both Western and Chinese data has found that acupuncture is similar in effectiveness to anti-depressant medication (3). Since anti-depressant medications have negative side-effects for many users including decreased libido, acupuncture is a viable alternative that has no known negative side-effects.

Specific Applications

Depression during pregnancy has been successfully treated with acupuncture and without the risks of medication taken during pregnancy (4). It has also proven effective in treating depression related to stroke (5, 6). Acupuncture is also helpful in decreasing pain which, when chronic, has a high rate of co-occurring depression (7).

How Research Says It Works

Studies indicate that acupuncture alters brain chemistry by increasing the production of the the brain’s natural opiates (endorphins) and neurotransmitter serotonin (8,9). Studies also indicate that acupuncture may alleviate depression through other neuro-chemical pathways that involve dopamine and the neuropeptide Y (10, 11).

As Complementary Medicine

Acupuncture is a safe complementary treatment to use in combination with anti-depressant medication and talk therapy. There is evidence that acupuncture can lessen the side-effects of anti-depressant medication as well as enhance their effectiveness (12).

Jeffrey Russell at Abacus Chinese Medicine can discuss your options for incorporating acupuncture into your depression recovery plan. He practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Louisville, KY.

(1) Mintel/YouGov. Depression poll commissioned by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. 2006 Apr.

(2)Stewart DE, Gucciardi E, Grace SL; Depression. BMC Women’s Health. 2004 Aug 25;4 Suppl 1:S19.

(3) Zhang Z.-J et al. The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture therapy in depressive disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2010;124 (1-2) (pp 9-21)

(4) Manber R et al. Acupuncture for depression during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010; 115(3):511-520. )

(5) Zhang 2010;Zhang Z.-J et al. The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture therapy in depressive disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2010;124 (1-2) (pp 9-21)

(6) Smith C.A. et al. Acupuncture for depression. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online). (1) (pp CD004046), 2010.

(7)Zhao ZQ, Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;85(4):355-75.

(8) Wang XJ, Wang LL. [A mechanism of endogenous opioid peptides for rapid onset of acupuncture effect in treatment of depression.] Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2010 Nov 15;8(11):1014-1017.

(9) Sprott H, Franke S, Kluge H, Hein G. Pain treatment of fibromyalgia by acupuncture. Rheumatol Int 1998;18:35-36.

(10) Scott S, Scott WN. A biochemical hypothesis for the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of substance abuse: acupuncture and the reward cascade. Am J Acupunct 1997;25:33–40

(11) Pohl A, Nordin C. Clinical and biochemical observations during treatment of depression with electroacupuncture: a pilot study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2002 Oct;17(7):345-8.

(12) Zhang GJ, Shi ZY, Liu S, Gong SH, Liu JQ, Liu JS. Clinical  observation on treatment of depression by electroacupuncture combined with Paroxetine. Chin J Integr Med. 2007 Sep;13(3):228-30.




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