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


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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.

Acupuncture can also be delivered with an electric pulse current through the needles (electroacupuncture).

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?

Reviews of studies of adults diagnosed with depression have found some evidence that acupuncture may be helpful for depression. Reviews have also found that acupuncture may be effective when used in addition to antidepressant medication. However, the quality of much 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.

Where do you get it?

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


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

Key references

  • Armour M, Smith CA, Wang L-Q, Naidoo D, Yang G-Y, MacPherson H, et al. Acupuncture for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019; 8(8):1140.
  • Chen B, Wang CC, Lee KH, Xia JC, Luo Z. Efficacy and safety of acupuncture for depression: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Research in Nursing & Health. 2023; 46(1):48-67.
  • Smith CA, Armour M, Lee MS, Wang LQ, Hay PJ. Acupuncture for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018 (3).
  • Xu M-m, Guo P, Ma Q-y, Zhou X, Wei Y-l, Wang L, et al. Can acupuncture enhance therapeutic effectiveness of antidepressants and reduce adverse drug reactions in patients with depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2022; 20(4):305-20.
  • Zhou Z, Xu G, Huang L, Tian H, Huang F, Liu Y, et al. Effectiveness and Safety of Electroacupuncture for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2022; 2022:1-15.

Last updated and reviewed: 21 August 2023