Acupuncture for Depression

by Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

Recent studies show that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for depression. Acupuncture triggers the release of serotonin, which positively impacts mood and a sense of well being. After acupuncture treatment, people report relief from acute symptoms and improvement in overall well being. Some of these people have even been able to work with their primary care practitioner or psychiatrist to wean off of their medications. That said, we absolutely never recommend stopping medication on your own, hoping to deal with depression ‘naturally.’ Some people will always need to take medication. We are interested in improving quality of life safely.

Acupuncture is a natural treatment for depression and does not have side effects common to the medications- in fact, it often helps to relieve the side effects.

Acupuncture for depression has sometimes shown to be as effective and long lasting as western medicine. To help with depression, we recommend people come 2-3 times a week for up to six weeks. After that, people come for maintenance, usually a few times a month. Some evidence has shown that acupuncture for depression treatment is most effective when paired with counseling.

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Related Research

A recent study on depression treatment showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms for the group that used acupuncture. The 755 subjects were divided into three groups: those who received ‘usual care’ alone (mostly antidepressant medication); those who received counseling as well as usual care; and those who received acupuncture as well as usual care. Both interventions were associated with significantly reduced depression at 3 months when compared to usual care alone. The acupuncture group had slightly better results even than the counseling group.

Symptoms of Depression

All of us experience sadness sometimes, as part of the range of human emotions. We experience the blues, grief, heartache, and irritability. Depression, however, is a medical condition. This mood disorder “causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest” (Mayo Clinic). The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that, as of 2005, “about 20.9 million American adults, or 9.5 percent of the population ages 18 and older, have mood disorders,” including depression. Major depressive disorder is “the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 – 44,” according to the World Health Organization.

The disorder is still not fully understood, but experts widely agree that there are multiple factors that may be involved, including: biological (MRIs have shown differences in the brains of people with depression); brain chemistry (malfunctions in neurotransmitter system); family history; and/or a history of trauma.

Symptoms of the disease are both emotional and physical, and significantly affect day-to-day life.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following signs and symptoms of the disease:
* Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
* Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
* Irritability, restlessness
* Loss of interest in activities once pleasurable, including sex
* Fatigue and decreased energy
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
* Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
* Overeating, or appetite loss
* Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
* Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.


National Institutes of Mental Health
US Department of Health and Human Services
National Institute of Health
Harvard Medical School
Mayo Clinic
Scientific American
World Health Organization
New England Journal of Medicine


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