Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people in the United States. It can lead to negative consequences, including decreased productivity, relationship problems, and even suicide. People who experience mild to severe depression often turn to medication and therapy to help them cope. However, another treatment option is becoming increasingly popular: acupuncture.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture is based on the belief in TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, that human bodies have an energy force called qi. This force flows through our bodies along specific pathways or meridians. When this force is blocked or not flowing correctly, it can lead to illness and disease. Western medical acupuncture, or WMA explains that acupuncture works by stimulating points in the nervous system that are coaxed to release healing hormones and improve nerve signaling throughout the CNS.1 The goal of acupuncture in both WMA and TCM is to unblock this energy and restore balance. When needles are inserted into specific points on the body, it can help to release blocked energy and promote healing.
Acupuncture is not just a placebo. It has been shown as an effective treatment for many conditions. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed some conditions that can be treated with acupuncture.
Conditions that can be treated with acupuncture include:
Respiratory system issues, such as acute sinusitis and bronchitis
Eye disorders, including cataracts
Mouth disorders in the form of toothaches, gingivitis, and post-extraction pain
Gastrointestinal disorders, such as diarrhea, constipation, gastritis, and esophagus spasms
Neurologic and musculoskeletal disorders, including headaches, migraines, and back pain
Reproductive and gynecological conditions, like premenstrual syndrome, spotting, and excessive bleeding
Mental health problems, including stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia
Can Acupuncture Be Used to Treat Depression?
Depression is characterized by many symptoms, including sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, and social withdrawal. But the question is, does acupuncture work for anxiety and depression?
Acupuncture has been studied and concluded to be an effective treatment for these mental health symptoms. A number of studies have been conducted on the efficacy of acupuncture for depression, finding that acupuncture was an effective treatment for reducing the severity of depression symptoms, especially for women.2
How Long Does It Take For Acupuncture to Work For Depression?
There is no single experience that can be generalized to everyone when it comes to acupuncture. Most people will experience a gradual improvement in their symptoms over time.
It is important to be patient and give the treatment time to work. However, it is not unusual to feel more relaxed after just one session.
In general, most people will need to come in for treatments once a week for several weeks or months. As your symptoms improve, you may need to come in for treatments less frequently. Overall, demonstrating patience and commitment to the treatment process is key to seeing results.
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Tips for Anyone Considering Acupuncture Treatment for Depression
If you are considering acupuncture treatment for depression, there are a few things that you can do to prepare:
Talk to your practitioner about any medications that you are taking: Some medications can interact with acupuncture, causing negative side effects. Reference? Other times, acupuncture can provide a healthy alternative to an addiction issue, such as opioids. Reference ? Be sure to inform your practitioner about any medications you are taking or other health concerns or conditions you may have. This will help them to properly assess whether acupuncture will be a safe and effective treatment option for you.
Do not eat a large meal before treatment: Having a light meal or snack before your appointment is best. Eating a big meal can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable during treatment, making it difficult to relax. However, it’s also important not to skip out entirely on food, as this can make you feel lightheaded during treatment. Find the right balance and eat something small an hour or two before your appointment.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing: You must remove your shoes and any jewelry during treatment. It is also best to wear loose-fitting clothes that will not restrict your movement. This will make it easier for the practitioner to place the needles and ensure that you are comfortable during treatment.
Ask questions: Ask your practitioner if you have any questions about acupuncture or how it works. They should be more than happy to answer any of your questions and help to put your mind at ease. If there are any specific or specialized concerns about your depression, be sure to bring these up so your practitioner can address them during treatment.
Be aware of how you feel after treatment: Pay close attention to how you feel in the hours and days following your treatment. It is not uncommon for people to feel a bit off after their first few treatments as their body adjusts to the needles. Reference? However, if you are feeling more depressed or anxious, reach out to your practitioner. They may need to adjust the treatment plan or refer you to other resources or services.
Questions to Ask Your Acupuncture Practitioner Before Treatment
Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for depression, but it’s important to ensure that you are comfortable with your practitioner before beginning treatment.
Here are a few questions to ask your practitioner before starting acupuncture for depression:
How long have you been practicing acupuncture?
Do you have any experience treating depression specifically?
What is your approach to treatment?
How many treatments will I need?
How often will I need to come in for treatment?
What are the potential side effects of treatment?
What other resources or services can you refer me to if I need them?
Acupuncture As an Alternative Medicine for Depression
Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for depression that can help to improve symptoms gradually over time. If you are considering acupuncture for your depression, ask your practitioner questions about their experience and approach to treatment.
Trust that the process is working, even if you don’t see results immediately, and enjoy the gradual improvements in your mood and well-being as your depression starts to lift. Learn more about how acupuncture can be used to treat depression and reset your body’s natural balance.
1. Dong, B., Chen, Z., Yin, X., Li, D., Ma, J., Yin, P., … & Xu, S. (2017). The efficacy of acupuncture for treating depression-related insomnia compared with a control group: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BioMed research international, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9614810
This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.
Dr. Samuel Lee
Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente. He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.