acupuncture and anxiety


Acupuncture and Anxiety Treatment

acupuncture and anxiety

Watch a brief video about acupuncture and anxiety treatment.

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

Many of my clients swear it has helped them, especially for pain issues. But why isn’t acupuncture for anxiety treatment more regularly used and recommended? On this page, I have researched acupuncture related explicitly 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 evidence-based acupuncture,studies show that acupuncture affects both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture can raise the body’s 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 calms our hypothalamus, which releases neurochemicals when under stress. 

Challenges to studying Acupuncture’s effectiveness

Different styles between practitioners and sham acupuncture

Chinese medicine teaches that acupuncture brings the body into harmony. Although it has been used for centuries, accup[uncture hasn’t been widely embraced by the west. Science doesn’t fully explain how it works, although it does
seem to work. The positive changes from acupuncture seem to do with the alteration of central nervous system neurotransmitters in our body.

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


Additionally, good research requires a placebo group, which is challenging 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. Touchpoints that are used in acupuncture aren’t fully understood.


Evidence-based practice is essential for providers to get reimbursed by insurance companies. Acupuncture may not be reimbursable.


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


A note about research

A note about research

It’s essential to keep in mind that research is a 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 what they say is true!


Newspaper headlines often misinterpret research studies and get it wrong. For example, if you have taken an introductory 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) i

s a mood disorder affecting women during specific times in their menstrual cycle. It consists of mood disturbance, physical symptoms, sleep, and appetite disturbance. PMDD can be disabling and impact a woman’s relationships, job
or school performance.

Currently the standard treatment is to prescribe antidepressants or hormone therapy

, which can come with an array of side effects. Especially for young women, this can be an undesirable choice. 
Some studies have shown a decrease in both psychological and physical symptoms associated with PMDD using 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 consequences. 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

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=

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.

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