Acupuncture

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

During acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into specific areas of a person’s body. The needles are inserted in different places depending on the type of acupuncture being used and what condition the acupuncture is aiming to treat. Acupuncture is done by a trained acupuncturist. Acupuncture has origins in China and Japan where it has been used as a traditional treatment for a long time.

How does it work?

Acupuncture is intended to affect the balance of energy (known as qi) in the body. Acupuncturists believe that balanced energy is good for your health. In order to create balance in energy, needles are inserted into certain points on the skin known as acupoints. This is intended to affect the flow of qi through certain channels throughout the body (known as meridians). 

This traditional view of how acupuncture works is not supported by scientific evidence. In the Western understanding of medicine, it is thought that acupuncture needles stimulate nerve fibres in the central nervous system. Stimulating these nerves could affect the neurochemicals in the brain which are responsible for mood.

Is it effective?

Although there have been numerous studies on this topic, it is not clear whether acupuncture is helpful for depression. Some studies have found that acupuncture might be helpful for depression, however the quality of this research is low. More good quality studies are needed to better understand the effectiveness of acupuncture for depression. 

Are there any disadvantages?

Acupuncture is generally not painful but can occasionally hurt when the needle is inserted. Some people have reported feeling dizzy, nauseous, tired, or having a headache for a short time after acupuncture.

A course of acupuncture treatment can involve between 12 to 40 sessions over 4 to 12 weeks. In Australia, the cost of acupuncture is not covered by Medicare.

Where do you get it?

Acupuncturists generally work out of their own private clinics. You can find their contact details through the yellow pages or online. Your doctor may also be able to give you a referral to an acupuncturist they recommend.

Recommendation

It is not clear whether acupuncture is helpful for depression. It is recommended that you consult a doctor before seeking out acupuncture.

Key references

  • Smith CA, Armour M, Lee MS, Wang LQ, Hay PJ. Acupuncture for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018 (3).

Last updated and reviewed: 1 November 2019