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Acupuncture and Depression

Stressed and sad expression on a person who is holding their neck with one hand.

Worldwide, nearly 350 million people suffer from depression and nearly 16 million of those are in the United States alone.

Depression does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, at any age. Statistics show women tend to be more likely to experience depression and young adults between the ages of 18-22 are also at a higher risk. Symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor issues, anxiety, restlessness, irrational anger, lack of interest in everyday activities, thoughts of death, insomnia, severe fatigue, weight gain/loss, difficulty concentrating, and unexplained aches and pains. When these symptoms occur for more than a few weeks, depression may be the reason behind them. Most people associate sadness with depression and we all deal with sadness throughout our lives; the difference between having a feeling of sadness and clinical depression is that depression can be debilitating for those affected by it.

The Conventional Approach

Person holding a clipboard sitting across from another person.

Conventional medicine breaks depression down into several categories, including anxious depression, melancholic depression, psychotic depression, seasonal depression, and so on. These types of depression are categorized based on their symptoms. Regardless of the category or diagnosis, a person suffering from depression would typically be put on antidepressant medication and would be recommended to seek psychotherapy. This is the standard of care for those experiencing depression.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach

Pulse being taken on the wrist by a person in a white coat.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at the patient holistically, considering all aspects, including the mind, the body, and the environment of the person. Diagnosis of a person includes inspection and observance of the expressions, colors, appearance, smells, and any idiosyncrasies that may be prevalent. TCM also looks at the patient’s tongue and pulses on both wrists. These two items are the primary diagnostic tools used in much the same way a conventional doctor takes your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse rate when you go in for an appointment. The tongue and pulses can reveal quite a bit of information about what is going on internally.

Tongue sticking out with labels to corresponding organ systems. Tip of tongue is labeled "heart", just behind that is "lungs", on either side of the tongue "liver & gallbladder", in the center is "spleen & stomach", in the back or root of the tongue is "kidneys, bladder, & intestines"

Different areas of the tongue correspond to body systems and energetic pathways. For example, the tip of the tongue can show irregularities related to the heart and the mind. The rear of the tongue can show irregularities related to the urinary bladder and kidneys and is associated with the emotion of fear.

The pulse is also broken down into six locations, three on each side, all of which correspond to a related meridian system.

When it comes to diagnosing depression, there is one major area that a TCM practitioner considers: the Liver system. This is not to say that other systems are not involved when somebody is experiencing depression. It merely means that the Liver is likely the first area to be deeply examined. Curious about the Liver system in Chinese medicine? Click here to read another blog post about the Liver.

acupuncture needle between the eyes on the forehead

To address depression, a licensed acupuncturist may use several tools including acupuncture, tui na massage, ear beads, herbs, nutrition, cupping, and exercises like qigong to help restore balance to the body. It all depends upon the severity of the depression, the systems involved, and patient preference.

As shown in this meta-analysis of 29 studies, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be very effective in treating depression. They found that acupuncture showed clinically significant reductions in the severity of depression compared to usual care, sham acupuncture, and as an adjunct to anti-depressant medication. A significant correlation between an increase in the number of acupuncture treatments delivered and a reduction in the severity of depression was found.

Traditional Chinese medicine is a wonderful addition to conventional approaches. It is safe and often advised to combine the therapies for the best results. As with most medical conditions, there is no one right way to approach a unique health situation.

Yours in health & wellness,

If you or your loved one is experiencing depression and is ready to try our traditional Chinese medicine approach,

give us a call or click to book your


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