While not a substitute for standard depression treatment, some studies have shown that acupuncture can help people suffering from mood disorders feel better.
Theoretically, acupuncture, which originated in China, helps energy flow through the body to create better balance and health.
Acupuncture is a so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy that involves the insertion of fine needles into the skin in specific areas of the body to stimulate the central nervous system.
According to experts at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, acupuncture triggers the release of chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain that activate the body's natural healing process, which in turn promotes physical and emotional well-being.
This practice originated in China thousands of years ago and is one of the most widely used CAM interventions in the world. According to a scientific review published in Advances in Global Health and Medicine, the popularity of acupuncture has soared in the United States over the past few decades, with more than 10 million acupuncture treatments performed each year.
According to the Mayo Clinic, analgesia is the most common use of acupuncture. However, researchers are also studying whether it can help treat other health conditions, such as depression, which affects 21 million adults in the U.S., the National Institute of Mental Health says.
Why acupuncture may appeal to people with depression
According to research published in March 2018 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, many people with depression consider using complementary therapies such as acupuncture. One reason is that acupuncture has fewer side effects than antidepressants, according to an analysis published in Frontiers in Psychology in October 2021.
Other causes? Jasdeep Sandhu, M.D., a psychiatrist at LifeStance Health in Atlanta, explains that the core goal of acupuncture is to restore balance in the body by increasing the flow of qi, or life energy, and that fatigue and low energy are common symptoms of depression. In addition, experts at the Mayo Clinic point out that acupuncture is widely used to relieve pain, which itself can cause depression or be caused by depression.
"People with depression often express these (pain and low energy) emotions, and acupuncture has a unique way of harnessing the energy and meridians or meridians in our bodies to restore balance," says Dr. Sandhu.
Acupuncture also aims to regulate hormonal imbalances and increase levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, says Nell Smilcina, PhD, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, president of the California Association of Oriental Medicine and director of American Development. Acupuncture Committee. According to the American Psychiatric Association, differences in these brain chemicals are a potential cause of depression.
Nonetheless, although a limited number of studies suggest that acupuncture may reduce symptoms of depression, more research is needed before it can be considered a reliable CAM treatment for mood disorders. More importantly, even if acupuncture can help some people with depression feel better, it is unlikely to be a one-stop solution.
Managing depression is complex and requires a multi-pronged approach to treatment, Sandhu explains, one that combines standard, well-researched treatments such as psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) and antidepressant medications.
What do studies show about the potential benefits of acupuncture for depression?
Acupuncture has shown promise in treating depression in many studies. The largest review, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, evaluated 64 studies of acupuncture for depression, including more than 7,100 participants. It found that acupuncture was moderately effective in reducing the severity of depression compared to standard depression treatment or no treatment at all.
Another systematic evaluation of 29 studies, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in August 2019, showed that among nearly 2,300 participants, acupuncture was a viable addition to standard depression treatment
Questions? The studies conducted to date have several limitations, one of the most important being that they have not clarified how acupuncture can be combined with psychotherapy or medication, which is the standard treatment for depression.
In addition, the studies in the Cochrane review lacked medium- to long-term follow-up, so it is impossible to know how acupuncture affects depressive symptoms over time. Most studies also did not consider the side effects of acupuncture. This means that any risks of acupuncture in patients with depression are not known.
What's more, in a review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, the researchers noted that 22 of the 27 included studies were conducted in China, where acupuncture treatments tend to be more frequent than in other countries. Therefore, it is uncertain whether these findings are applicable to people living in other countries. Similarly, most of these studies did not include follow-up to determine whether any benefits were long-lasting.
Can I rely on acupuncture alone to treat depression?
In a word, no. Dr. Smircina warns that while acupuncture can help you feel better, it is not a substitute for standard depression treatment.
"You can experience the greatest benefits of acupuncture while seeing a therapist, psychiatrist or other medical professional," she says.
If you want to try acupuncture, do so in conjunction with talk therapy, medications or other well-researched treatment options. "You don't have to take an either/or approach," Smircina says.
Sanhutong means. She also suggests telling the acupuncturist what you would like to get from the session, such as relief from pain, low mood or fatigue associated with depression.
The frequency of acupuncture treatments varies from person to person. smircina says that some people start with two to three sessions per week. Others find that once a week is enough, especially for maintenance treatment or general pain or stress relief.
Before trying acupuncture, consult your doctor to make sure it is safe for you. According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture may not be safe for people who have
1. Patients with hemorrhagic diseases
2. People with pacemakers
3. Pregnant women
The potential side effects of acupuncture are usually minimal and may include pain, as well as minor bruising or bleeding from the placement of needles.
The bottom line: is acupuncture worth trying for depression?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that there is insufficient evidence to determine that acupuncture can alleviate depressive symptoms. However, in general, acupuncture is considered safe when performed correctly.
"Thank goodness, acupuncture is a very safe modality and has few - and rare - potential side effects," Smircina says.
Sandhu agrees, saying acupuncture is usually safe as long as you choose to work with a trained professional. "You should look for a licensed and board-certified practitioner," she notes. "The National Certification Board for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the professional licensing body for Chinese medicine in the United States, provides a directory of licensed practitioners."
Again, it is important to talk to your doctor before trying acupuncture. In fact, Smircina encourages facilitating communication between your doctor and your acupuncturist, and your acupuncturist and therapist or psychiatrist should communicate and keep your goals in mind.