Research studies have consistently shown that acupuncture can effectively treat stress-induced anxiety and depression as a stand-alone treatment option or as a complementary therapy. Stress, however, is more difficult to study, because stress is more difficult to measure than anxiety or depression. But acupuncture as well as traditional Chinese medicine was designed to prevent diseases rather than treat them, which it can also can, but not as fast. So acupuncture’s effectiveness is greater for stress relief than—as it is probably obvious—it is for full-blown anxiety or depression.
Research suggests that repeated or continuous stress can lead to either anxiety or depression. Experiments on rats, for example, in which the animals were exposed to unpredictable mild stress, such as they were forced to swim unexpectedly, for twenty-eight days, the rats began exhibiting depressive-like and/or anxiety-like behavior. They started losing weight, eating more sugary treats, and became less active (Lu et al., 2016). More importantly, however, is that research also suggests that repeated or prolonged stress cause by inflammation of the hippocampus area in the brain, which in turn causes depression and sometimes anxiety (Yue et al., 2018). For a number of years now, studies have consistently shown that acupuncture has a significant anti-inflammatory effect (Yim et al., 2007; Zijlstra, 2003). While research showed that acupuncture can be effective in treatment of depression (Armour et al., 2019) and anxiety (Amorim et al., 2018), the mechanism of how acupuncture works was unclear. A lot of details still require clarification, but acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects appear to be the major component of its effectiveness, and its low number of side effects makes it a preferred treatment option. Acupuncture’s effect appears to be even greater when it is used in conjunction with other therapies, but this is where the traditional use of acupuncture—and traditional Chinese medicine, in general—is once again emphasized.
Research typically tests effects of acupuncture is specifically chosen conditions in carefully designed environments. Traditionally, however, the goal of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine is not to treat diseases—which it can, but its effects are gentle—but to prevent them from occurring. In other words, acupuncture should be much more effective in reducing mild inflammation caused by stress than more significant inflammation that occurs during anxiety or depression. But it’s usually true about well-being: maintaining health requires less effort than restoring health back to its optimal state. So whenever you feel that stress is becoming overwhelming, try acupuncture. Just a couple of sessions can make you feel fine, whereas when your anxiety or depression sets in, then even ten acupuncture sessions may not be enough to restore you back to your optimal shape.
1. Amorim, D., Amado, J., Brito, I., Fiuza, S. M., Amorim, N., Costeira, C., & Machado, J. (2018). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 31, 31-37.
2. Armour, M., Smith, C. A., Wang, L. Q., Naidoo, D., Yang, G. Y., MacPherson, H., … & Hay, P. (2019). Acupuncture for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(8), 1140.
3. Lu, J., Shao, R. H., Hu, L., Tu, Y., & Guo, J. Y. (2016). Potential antiinflammatory effects of acupuncture in a chronic stress model of depression in rats. Neuroscience letters, 618, 31-38.
4. Yim, Y. K., Lee, H., Hong, K. E., Kim, Y. I., Lee, B. R., Son, C. G., & Kim, J. E. (2007). Electro-acupuncture at acupoint ST36 reduces inflammation and regulates immune activity in collagen-induced arthritic mice. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4(1), 51-57.
5. Yue, N., Li, B., Yang, L., Han, Q. Q., Huang, H. J., Wang, Y. L., … & Yu, J. (2018). Electro-acupuncture alleviates chronic unpredictable stress-induced depressive-and anxiety-like behavior and hippocampal neuroinflammation in rat model of depression. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 11, 149.
6. Zijlstra, F. J., van den Berg-de Lange, I., Huygen, F. J., & Klein, J. (2003). Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators of inflammation, 12.