Acupuncture and mental health

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Acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years, but it was not until president Nixon made a trip to China in 1971 that the therapy started to grab the attention of the western world. During the trip, American reporter James Reston suffered a sudden case of appendicitis, and needed emergency surgery. As part of his post-op care, Reston received acupuncture treatment, and found it so effective that he wrote a piece about it for the New York Times. Thus, acupuncture was introduced to America, before making its way to Europe.


Since coming to the west, acupuncture has had a hard time being taken seriously, but as time goes on, more and more scientific studies are being conducted in this area. One of the most famous studies comes from the University of Arizona, where a psychologist named John Allen teamed up with an acupuncturist named Rosa Schnyer. They took 34 women who had been diagnosed with depression, and split them into 3 groups: tailored acupuncture treatments, general acupuncture treatments, and no treatment. After 8 weeks, less than 50% of those who received acupuncture qualified as clinically depressed, with the biggest reduction being in the tailored treatment group. The authors concluded that acupuncture could be just as effective as counselling in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Another study from the University of York looked at 755 people who had been diagnosed with depression. This study found that acupuncture could be more effective than counselling, with acupuncture lowering the symptoms of depression by about 26%, and counselling by 19%. However, both the Arizona and York studies agree that acupuncture combined with counselling will achieve the most effective results.

There are a few reasons acupuncture may help both physical and mental health, which often go hand in hand. Endorphins are released when the needles are inserted, which helps alleviate pain and boost our mood. They also help in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to bodily tissues, and clearing waste products. At the same time, our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, start to drop, as well as our heart rate and blood pressure.

There are still things we need to learn about acupuncture, and more studies to be done, but the evidence is starting to stack up and mainstream science is beginning to acknowledge the benefits of acupuncture. To learn more about this subject, see our sister company The Physio Company’s blog on the benefits of acupuncture.

Julie Farrar