Acupuncture and Anxiety Treatment


Watch a brief video about acupuncture and anxiety treatment.

Acupuncture has been used to treat mental health disorders for centuries. Recently, the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including acupuncture, yoga, medication, massage, herbs and supplements has been more accepted in the west.

Many of my clients swear it has helped them, especially for issues of pain. But why isn’t acupuncture for anxiety treatment more regularly used and recommended? On this page I have researched acupuncture specifically as it relates to anxiety so you can understand what the research says and make an informed choice about whether to use it or not to help you. 

Acupuncture and Anxiety: How does it work?

According to the website evidenced based acupuncture,studies show that acupuncture has effects on both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture can raise the bodies Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which improves our ability to cope with stress. HRV has been correlated with better health and  lower levels of anxiety. Perhaps this is one of the ways acupuncture helps people who have anxiety. Additionally, acupuncture has been shown to release endorphins which regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and stress. Acupuncture has also been shown to  calm our hypothalamus, which releases neurochemicals when under stress. 

Challenges to studying Acupuncture's effectiveness

Different styles between practitioners and sham acupuncture

In the west, we don't understand it, It's difficult to study its effectiveness, and it's often not covered by insurance. 

Chinese medicine teaches that acupuncture brings the body into harmony. Although it has been used for centuries, it hasn’t been widely embraced among practitioners in the west. This is mostly because we don’t fully understand how it works, although it does seem to work.  The positive changes seem to have something to do with the alteration of central nervous system neurotransmitters in our body. 

Different forms and methods of acupuncture make uniform practice of acupuncture difficult to ensure. Practitioners each have different styles. because of this creating solid research design is a challenging task.

Additionally good research research requires a placebo group, and this is difficult to create in acupuncture. When researchers  attempt to create placebo groups with sham acupuncture ( with needles that don't penetrate the skin) the respondents also get better. Much of the research on acupuncture may underestimate the positive impact of acupuncture because it is believed that the recreation also is effective because of touch points. We don't fully understand this.

Evidenced based practice is important for providers to get reimbursed by insurance companies, and gathering evidence for acupuncture's evidence is challenging. For you this may mean not only is it hard to figure out if it will be helpful, but also, if you decide it is you might have to pay out of pocket. 

Nevertheless, researchers have attempted to do studies on acupuncture and anxiety treatment; areas where there is evidence for its efficacy are summarized below. 

A note about research

It's important to keep in mind that research is a really tricky thing. You may read a lot of research on the internet that says one thing, and then research that says another.

Who is commissioning a research study is very important to look at. The conclusions of research can be questionable based on this. For example if a study is paid for a pharmaceutical company you have to question whether the fact that they say their medicine works is true.

Newspaper headlines,  often misinterpret research studies, and get it wrong. For example, if you have taken a basic research class you know correlation is not causation. Just because one thing and the same thing have both happened doesn't mean they cause each other. Here is a link on this.

Acupuncture and Anxiety Treatment: Invitro fertilization, Generalized Anxiety, Preoperative Anxiety and Dental Anxiety

In a comprehensive literature review about acupuncture and anxiety treatment appearing in an edition of Acupuncture and Medicine, it was concluded that acupuncture, when used with people who suffered from general anxiety disorder, had favorable results (Pilkington, Hagen, Cummings, and Richardson, 2007).

Another more recent literature review done in Evidence - Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that acupuncture delivered on the day of surgery had positive results for clients who had anxiety about that surgery. Some studies have suggested that auricular acupuncture, acupuncture done on points of the ear, is the most helpful kind with these kinds of patients ( Bae,  Bae,  and Byung-Il Min  2014).  

Further studies have shown success using acupuncture with patients who have dental anxiety( Michalek-sauberer, Gusenleitner, Gleiss, Tepper and  Deusch, 2012).

Research has also focused  on women who have been suffering with issues of infertility, and undergoing in vitro fertilization. Women struggling with issues of infertility often develop anxiety and depression along with symptoms of grief.  Studies suggest acupuncture may reduce  anxiety symptoms in these women ( Isoyama , Cordts , de Souza van Niewegen , de Almeida Pereira de Carvalho , Matsumura , Barbosa 2012). 

These are all areas where the use of acupuncture may provide an alternative for clients who are struggling with intense anxiety  and do not elect to take antidepressants or other drugs for anxiety.

Acupuncture and Anxiety Treatment: PMDD

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a mood disorder affecting women that occurs during specific times in their menstrual cycle. It consists of mood disturbance, physical symptoms, sleep and appetite disturbance.  PMDD can be disabling and can impact a woman’s relationships, job or school performance. Currently the standard treatment is to prescribe antidepressants or hormone therapy, both of which can come with an array of side effects.  Especially for young women, this can be and undesirable choice. Some studies have shown a decrease in both psychological and physical symptoms associated with PMDD with the use of acupuncture ( Carvalho,  Weires, Ebling, and Ferrão,  et al. 2013).

In summary, if you are struggling with anxiety, it might make sense to give acupuncture a try. It is unlikely that a doctor will suggest it, because the research done isn’t of the best quality, and we don’t completely understand how acupuncture works. However, many of my clients have had positive results with acupuncture, and it is unlikely that you will have any undesirable results. There is minimal risk or side effects, and not much to lose by trying it. 

Things to keep in mind when finding someone to do acupuncture

Find someone who has experience in treating anxiety

  • Ask to speak with other clients if someone has success very often they are willing to be a reference
  • Ask how long you might expect to need sessions before you feel better
  • Check with your insurance to see if it's covered
  • Ask your acupuncture professional why it works
  • Ask if your symptoms might get better before they get worse


Bae, Hyojeong; Bae, Hyunsu; Byung-Il Min:Cho, Seunghun(2014). Efficacy of Acupuncture in Reducing Preoperative Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis. Evidence - Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Carvalho, Fabiana; Weires, Kelly; Ebling, Márcia; Padilha, Maristela de Souza Rabbo; Ferrão, Ygor Arzeno; et al. (2013). Effects of acupuncture on the symptoms of anxiety and depression caused by premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Acupuncture in Medicine, 31,4,358-63. Retrieved from

 Goyatá SL, Avelino CC, Santos SV, Souza Junior DI, Gurgel MD, Terra Fde S. Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Rev Bras Enferm. 2016 Jun;69(3):602-9

Isoyama, Daniela; Cordts, Emerson Barchi; van Niewegen, Angela Mara Bentes de Souza; de Carvalho, Waldemar de Almeida Pereira; Matsumura, Simone Tiemi; et al. (2012). Effect of acupuncture on symptoms of anxiety in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: a prospective randomised controlled study Acupuncture in Medicine. 30, 2 , 85-8. Retrieved from

Michalek-sauberer, Andrea; Gusenleitner, Erich; Gleiss, Andreas; Tepper, Gabor; Deusch, Engelbert.(2012)  Auricular acupuncture effectively reduces state anxiety before dental treatment--a randomised controlled trial. Clinical Oral Investigations, 16,6, 1517-1522. Retrieved from http:// /cgibin/nclsm? url-

Pilkington, Karen; Kirkwood, Graham; Hagen, Rampes; Cummings, Mike; Richardson, Janet. (2007)Acupuncture for anxiety and anxiety disorders - a systematic literature review Acupuncture in Medicine ,25, ½,   1-10.Retrieved from url=

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.