How Acupuncture for Stress Helps Patients Cope

Acupuncture has been used to treat depression and anxiety for years, so it makes sense that it would also work to help patients suffering from stress.

However, because “stress” is a much broader term than the either depression or anxiety and it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint triggers or causes, acupuncture for stress has not always been considered an effective method of reducing or relieving stress.

Recent studies and research show that not considering acupuncture as an effective treatment for stress might have been a mistake. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to support the use of acupuncture to help with stress – especially in the case of those who are also suffering from anxiety or other mood conditions that might interact or trigger episodes of stress.

The Science Behind It

In a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology, researchers looked at the effects of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic stress. The study used electro-acupuncture (EA), a form of acupuncture where small electrical currents are sent through the needle into the body to help stimulate contact points. They found that EA is highly effective in reducing the release of stress hormones from the brain and into the nervous system.

The study—which was done in rats and not humans—found that certain acupuncture points directly affect the release of peptides and proteins, which in turn influence the production of hormones such as cortisol (the stress hormone). This could be significant because people with stress often have elevated levels of cortisol that can cause side effects like insomnia, irritability, mood swings, and more. By using acupuncture to affect the production of cortisol, practitioners can help patients lower their stress levels.

Similar results where obtained in other studies, such as the one published in the CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics journal. Here, researchers looked at the effects of acupuncture to treat anxiety and found it just as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is one of the most common forms of treatment used to deal with anxiety and stress.

Other Benefits of Acupuncture on Stress Levels

Acupuncture can help not only to lower levels of stress, but it can also help patients deal with the physical effect of stress on the body. For example, a study published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine looked at the effects of stress on immune system impairment and whether acupuncture could help fight those effects.

Researchers found that women who used acupuncture for stress experienced fewer physical effects on the body. When a blood test was performed after acupuncture treatment, researchers also found that these women had stronger immune systems, while those in the control group (who didn’t use acupuncture) had a diminished or impaired immune system. The results remained the same for a month after each session of acupuncture.

One last thing to consider: acupuncture has been studied for a number of conditions and symptoms that might be connected to stress. For example, research has shown that one of the effects of acupuncture treatment is to stabilize the production and release of serotonin and dopamine, two hormones that regulate mood chemistry and can help ease the physical and mental effects of anxiety and stress.

Other studies have shown that acupuncture has a direct impact on the areas of the brain that control pain and stress. Because of this, acupuncture can be used to promote relaxation and to help ease feelings of worry or anxiety. When done regularly, this could help patients dealing with chronic stress.



acupuncture for depression

5 Reasons to Consider Acupuncture for Depression

Acupuncture and depression have been closely linked for many years. In fact, the use of acupuncture to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders is becoming increasingly popular because of research supporting its efficacy. Here are 5 reasons why you should consider acupuncture as part of your treatment for depression:

#1: It’s Customizable – No “One Size Fits All”

A recent article published in the Medical Acupuncture journal pointed to the fact that part of the reason acupuncture is so effective in treating depression is that practitioners are able to customize treatment, selecting the best acupuncture points based on the symptoms of the patient, as well as his or her level of disharmony and imbalance.

#2: Acupuncture is Complementary

In addition to customizability, some experts are now finding that adding acupuncture to the scope of treatment might provide faster and more effective results than just using drugs alone to treat the problem. This makes it a complementary treatment, which means it supports the efficacy of the drugs used instead of the patient having to rely purely on one treatment or the other.

An example of this was research conducted at York University with patients who were using drugs and therapy or drugs and acupuncture or medication alone to treat their depression. They found that those receiving either acupuncture or therapy reported a higher level of improvement that lasted up to six months. The level of improvement in patients just taking medication was lower.

#3: Research is Promising

In 2008, Intervention Review looked at seven different studies and trials comprising over 500 patients using acupuncture to treat depression. This was an important systemic review because it allowed researchers to compare outcomes and weigh differences among patients, severity of depression, and whether depression returned after treatment stopped or the results were long-lasting.

The results? The researchers, although they were unconvinced of the efficacy of acupuncture, noted that medication did not seem more effective than acupuncture treatments when it came to results – which technically signals that acupuncture could provide relief in certain cases.

#4: It’s Safe and Has No Side Effects

It’s important to note that acupuncture is considered safe and produces almost no side effects in most cases. This means it could be easily added to current treatment without having to give up medication, therapy or any other form of traditional action being used to address mood disorders.

#5: Experts Support the Use of Acupuncture for Depression

While the current research has not been enough to change the status quo, many researchers and proponents of natural medicine do back acupuncture as an effective complementary treatment for depression.

For example, a small study (19 participants) published in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine journal looked into the use of acupuncture to treat patients with mild to moderate levels of depression.

During the study, participants received either traditional acupuncture (where specific points connected to mood and the brain were targeted) or sham acupuncture (where needles were either applied superficially or applied to random points across the body)

By the end of 12 sessions, participants receiving acupuncture reported improvements in quality of life, depressive symptoms and level/intensity of depression. While the trial was very small, the researchers pointed out that it was conducted under strict supervision and following all proper protocols – making it a great guide to help design and conduct larger randomized controlled trials in the future.



acupuncture for anxiety

Why Acupuncture for Anxiety is a Promising Treatment

The use of acupuncture for anxiety is nothing new, but researchers are now discovering that this ancient art might be more effective than first thought in the treatment of mood disorders.

Why Anxiety is Difficult to Treat

Anxiety has always been a difficult condition to treat because of how many variations of it you can find. For example, some people only experience anxiety occasionally, under certain circumstances or caused by very specific triggers. Others live stressful lives and deal with anxiety on an almost daily basis. This is in addition to specific anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Also, anxiety doesn’t present with the same symptoms for everyone. Some cases of anxiety are mild, causing just general discomfort, while others might lead to:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • restlessness
  • fear
  • negative thoughts

It’s also possible for people to also develop anxiety in conjunction with other mood disorders, such as depression.

While treating anxiety effectively presents many challenges to doctors, the use of acupuncture for anxiety might offer some general relief as an add-on treatment or when other forms of treatment have failed.

Studies and Research

Many studies have been conducted in the use of acupuncture for anxiety. One of the most recent ones, published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013, found that acupuncture decreased the release of stress hormone in the brain, helping fight chronic anxiety and stress. A study review, published in the CNSNeuroscience and Therapeutics journal, examined a number of research therapies and studies, and found that acupuncture can be just as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of anxiety. This is an important conclusion, as CBT has long been considered one of the most effective non-drug treatments for chronic anxiety.

The Final Word

Acupuncture also relieves the symptoms of two other disorders connected to anxiety: depression and chronic stress. Because all three issues are closely connected, an acupuncturist might decide to address all of them during your sessions, hoping the relief of one of them will positively affect the others. One thing to keep in mind when using acupuncture for anxiety is that not every acupuncturist will necessarily target the same points. In addition, different people might require different forms of anxiety treatment depending on the root of the problem. It’s the job of the acupuncturist to figure out the underlying issues (from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine) so that he or she can administer the most appropriate treatment.

Whatever the reason behind your anxiety, using different treatment strategies, including possibly acupuncture, is more likely to help than using a single strategy, or not seeking help at all.



acupuncture for depression

Acupuncture For Depression Shows Good Results

Are you thinking of using acupuncture for depression? A number of new studies are showing the results might be a lot more impressive than you might expect.

The use of acupuncture to treat a number of conditions is nothing new. From pain to infertility to emotional disorders, acupuncture has become one of the most common methods of alternative medicine treatment in modern times – and with good reason.

Acupuncture and Depression

Perhaps one of the most telling studies in the subject is the one published in PLoS Medicine journal, where researchers looked at the effect of acupuncture in the treatment of depression – and found that it works slightly better than counseling to help patients.

In fact, after three months, 33 percent of people using acupuncture reported feeling better, while only 29 percent of those in therapy could say the same. About 70 percent of the 755 people in the study also took antidepressants showing that it’s possible to combine both traditional and alternative therapy for optimal results.

Even better, the beneficial effects of acupuncture lasted about three months after the study ended. This could indicate that continuing treatment could help provide long-term relief to those dealing with depression and other mood disorders.

When Nothing Else Works

In another small study, three women with severe depression who didn’t respond to traditional treatment (medication and psychotherapy) were treated with acupuncture. For all three, the addition of Acupuncture Electric Stimulation Therapy (Acu-EST) helped. This is a type of acupuncture where needles are stimulated by a small electrical current. The women experienced improvement in their symptoms after just a few sessions without any of the side effects associated with more invasive forms of treatment.

Another example of the power of acupuncture is the fact that it can be effectively used to treat endogenous depression, a less common form of depression that doesn’t respond well to treatment and is connected to thyroid hormones. This type of depression also presents additional symptoms that make life difficult for the patient – including insomnia, loss of appetite and even unusual body aches.

When treated with acupuncture, patients suffering from endogenous depression improved significantly.

Acupuncture has also been shown as very effective in treating anxiety, which many people with depression also experience. Anxiety often appears in the form of negative thoughts, irregular heartbeats, emotional unbalance and restlessness.

So How Does Acupuncture Work?

Although there’s speculation, scientists haven’t quite figure out how and why acupuncture works. The most accepted theory is that applying the needles at certain points in the body causes the release of endorphins and enkerphalins, two substances responsible for a number of things in the body, including mood and an overall feeling of health and wellbeing.

Other experts believe acupuncture also helps with the production and release of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These are the “feel good” hormones that are often in low supply in people with depression. Anti-depressant medications usually work by addressing the low level of these hormones as well, so it makes sense that acupuncture would be an effective treatment for depression.

It’s important to keep in mind that clinical depression is a very serious problem and you should not self-treat it without the guidance of a professional. If you’ve been prescribed medication to treat your depression, you should not discontinue its use without approval of your doctor. If you want to try acupuncture, you can do so in addition to any Western treatment you are currently using.



Acupuncture for Depression

Acupuncture for Depression

This month’s edition of the magazine, Scientific American, includes a well-written and informative discussion about the evidence in support of acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of Major Depression. This article also provides a good overview of the challenges associated with clinical trials of acupuncture for depression.

As summarized in the Scientific American article, several published studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of depression.  One of the most important studies was conducted by Dr. Hugh MacPherson and colleagues in England. They randomized 755 patients with depression to one of three treatment groups: 1) acupuncture plus usual care; 2) counseling plus usual care; or 3) usual care alone. They found that both acupuncture and counseling were associated with significantly reduced depression compared to usual care alone.

Another randomized clinical trial found that acupuncture in combination with the antidepressant medication paroxetine (Paxil) was more effective at improving symptoms than Paxil alone after 6 weeks of treatment.  Yet another study demonstrated that a 6-week course of acupuncture alone was as effective as a course of treatment with the antidepressant medication fluoxetine (Prozac).

In addition to being effective as either a stand-alone or adjunct treatment for depression, acupuncture may be used to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with commonly used medications for depression.  A recent study reported “Significant improvement among male participants was noted in all areas of sexual functioning, as well as in both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Female participants reported a significant improvement in libido and lubrication and a nonsignificant trend toward improvement in several other areas of function.”  (Reference: Khamba B et al. Efficacy of acupuncture treatment of sexual dysfunction secondary to antidepressants. J Altern Complement Med. 2013; 19(11):862-9).

In my view, acupuncture is not likely to be sufficiently effective to serve as one’s only treatment for depression, but the evidence strongly suggests that acupuncture can play an important and positive role in the treatment of Major Depression and other clinical conditions in which depressed mood and other symptoms commonly associated with depression feature prominently.