Following my two previous posts, the emotion-body connection and the suggested link between mood and cancer, what can TCM do to improve mood or correct emotional imbalances? Use acupuncture for depression, that’s what!

The Practicioners

The translator for the Tuina class at SHUTCM was also a practicing acupuncturist and her specialty was treating depression and anxiety with acupuncture.  She worked on both western and Chinese patients using acupuncture to significantly improve their condition, multiplying the effects of medication and talk therapy. She preferred patients continue taking their anti-depressants as long as needed, and as prescribed by their western mental-health physician.  She thought acupuncture should be used in combination with those prescriptions.

By contrast, I talked to another TCM doctor who insisted that patients get off their anti-depressants as soon as possible and put more faith in acupuncture. He believes the drugs actually prolong the depression and create addiction.  He wanted to use acupuncture to improve balance and moderate the brain’s functioning without the interference of medication.

The Question

Regardless of whether acupuncture should be used in combination with medications, the important question is, does acupuncture really work for depression?

The Evidence

In a February 2010 study at Stanford School of Medicine, “researchers found that [pregnant] women who received the depression-specific acupuncture experienced a bigger reduction in depression symptoms than the women in the other groups.” While the Stanford study was performed on pregnancy-related depression patients, an earlier study of the general population at University of Arizona, found that more than 50% of the patients receiving depression-specific acupuncture improved their condition  so much as to no longer be considered clinically depressed (

The Naysayers

However, the blog, Science based Medicine, pokes holes in the Stanford study. Many others have doubts about the efficacy of acupuncture on depression-specific points and about acupuncture in general.

The Book Says…

The TCM textbook, Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 2nd edition, says, “The brain is the house of the original spirit. The Governor Vessel [Meridian] enters and connects to the brain. Baihui (Governor Vessel [point] 20) and Shuigou (Governor Vessel 26) induce resuscitation and adjust the spirits. Shenmen (HT 7) [another point] is the Yuan-Source Point of the heart channel, and Neiguan (PC 6) is the Luo-Connecting Point of the pericardium channel. These two points can clam the heart and spirit.”

My Thoughts

The anectdotal evidence is pretty impressive, such as patient Karen, whose story is told on McManWeb. Acupuncture is one of those things that if you don’t see results, you’re probably not coming back.  So if some acupuncturists have built their career on treating depression, they must be getting some kind of results.

Considering the next best alternative, talk therapy, is going by the wayside as noted in the NYT article Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy. Is at least trying acupuncture really worse than loading up on drugs that may (1) prolong the depression (how else are drug companies supposed to keep making money?), (2) create addiction (see #1), and/or (3) have side effects.

The World Health Organization says acupuncture has proved to be an effective treatment for depression. In my mind, acupuncture is a very appealing and promising alternative (or supplement) to prescriptions and talk therapy.  Especially for people who’ve done years of both medications and talking with little to no results, don’t you feel like there should be something else? I don’t think anyone fully appreciates or understands the mind-body connection, and for all we know depression could be due to a poorly functioning (or unbalanced) liver, or stomach. I think thousands of years of practical experience and field research (TCM’s history) should count for something. Acupuncture has survived this long, what makes it less applicable in 2011 than in the previous 2000 years? Besides, compare the side effects and cost of acupuncture v. drugs. In my mind, acupuncture is absolutely worth a try.

If you’re looking for something other than acupuncture to treat depression, try

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