Acupuncture for Anxiety | psychology today


Animal and human studies suggest that the beneficial health effects of acupuncture, including mental and emotional functioning, are linked to different mechanisms of action, including changes in neurotransmitters involved in emotional regulation such as serotonin , modulation of the autonomic nervous system and changes in immune function. Some researchers have argued that the placebo effect plays an important role in the clinical response to acupuncture; however, simulation-controlled studies do not support this hypothesis.

Research Findings Support Acupuncture as a Treatment for Anxiety

Acupuncture and acupressure are widely used to treat anxiety in Asia and Western countries. Numerous case reports from the Chinese medical literature suggest that different acupuncture protocols reduce the severity of generalized anxiety and panic attacks (Lake and faults 2001).

In a small, double-blind, controlled study, 36 mildly depressed or anxious patients were randomized to either an acupuncture protocol traditionally used by Chinese physicians to treat anxiety or a sham acupuncture protocol (i.e. i.e. acupuncture points believed to have no beneficial effect). All patients received three treatments. Heart rate variability (HRV) and mean heart rate were measured 5 and 15 minutes after treatment. Resting heart rate was significantly lower in the treatment group, but not in the sham group, and changes in HRV measurements suggested that acupuncture may have altered autonomic activity, resulting in reduced heart rate. overall anxiety. The significance of these results is limited by the lack of baseline anxiety measures before and after treatment.

In another double-blind study, 55 adults who had not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder were randomized to receive either a sham acupuncture point or a bilateral auricular acupuncture protocol (involving points on the ears) called the “shenmen” point. This protocol is considered effective against anxiety. In all subjects, the acupuncture needles remained in place for 48 hours. The “relaxation” group was significantly less anxious at 30 minutes, 24 hours and 48 hours compared to the other two groups, however, there were no significant differences between the groups regarding blood pressure, heart rate or electrodermal activity (Wang 2001). .

Reviews report mostly positive findings

A first narrative review of controlled studies, outcome studies and published case reports of acupuncture as a treatment for anxiety and depressed mood has been published by the British Acupuncture Council. Simulation-controlled studies have yielded consistent improvements in anxiety using both regular (i.e. body) acupuncture and electro-acupuncture. The authors noted that there were significant differences between the protocols used in both regular acupuncture and electro-acupuncture, suggesting that acupuncture may have general beneficial effects or possibly placebo effects. Although most of the controlled studies reviewed reported a general anxiety-reducing effect of acupuncture, the reviewers considered these results inconclusive due to study design issues, including the lack of rating scales. standardized symptom assessment in most studies, limited follow-up, and ill-defined differences between protocols used in different studies.

A recently published systematic review (2018) compared the results of studies of traditional (body) acupuncture, auricular acupuncture (ariculotherapy), and electrotherapy in the treatment of anxiety. Some studies included in the review reported that acupuncture improves response to prescription anti-anxiety medications and may also reduce medication side effects. The authors found good evidence that different styles of acupuncture reduce anxiety symptoms in general and recommended further simulation-controlled studies to help determine whether certain protocols are more beneficial than others.

For more information on complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety, read my e-book”Anxiety: the integrative solution in mental health.”

Few mild side effects

Uncommon transient side effects associated with acupuncture include bruising, fatigue, and nausea. Very rare cases of pneumothorax (a life-threatening condition caused when an acupuncture needle causes a lung to collapse) have been reported.


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