by Heather Callaghan

More than 300 million people suffer from depression and anxiety worldwide. That’s approximately the entire US population. There are simply no words to describe the level of anguish that people – many needlessly – endure. The good news is that among many holistic methods of addressing this epidemic, there is acupuncture. Several scientific studies addressing depression have come to light recently which prove this ancient technique of healing can be very effective for addressing such as a wide-spread issue.

A Brief History of Acupuncture as Energy Medicine

Acupuncture is considered a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, with its roots reaching back to at least 6000 BC. The Oxford dictionary states that the first undeniable written mention of acupuncture was in a document called the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of International Medicine, which dates back to 100 BC, but this document was likely a collection of oral traditions passed down from a much earlier in time.

The practice of TCM at this time was a loose codification of many different holistic healing practices ranging from needling and moxibustion, to herbal prescriptions and massage. Diet was also always addressed, with due consideration given to what was eaten as it directly informed the constitution and could literally form the elements which interacted with subtle energy or qi.

The TCM version of acupuncture has been delineated into many different schools or traditions with key differences being noted between Chinese and Japanese schools. These differences in acupuncture can be briefly described as follows:

1. Japanese needles tend to be smaller than Chinese needles. Chinese philosophy is a little more aggressive in attempting to rebalance energy, while Japanese acupuncture as described by many of its proponents, is much more gentle.

2. The Japanese style of acupuncture is more superficial. The needles are not placed into the skin and fascia as deeply as Chinese needles are.

3. Chinese practitioners will more often include herbs with their acupuncture treatments, while Japanese practitioners of acupuncture will add moxibustion, often using mugwort, due to its startling pharmacological ability to heal the body.

4. In Japanese-style acupuncture, touch is used to “feel” the energy of the body and is used as a form of pre-treatment.

5. There are minor philosophical differences which form the premise of the art in each lineage. In Japan, acupuncture is thought to have evolved from the eight extraordinary meridians, also called the oceans of origin. These original meridians are formed after the first cells divide when we are conceived.

As the energy body continues its formation, 12 organ meridians flow into and out of the oceans of origin to affect our health. Dedicated Japanese acupuncturists feel into this flow of energy by listening to the pulse, and palpating different places on the body.

In Chinese acupuncture, the meridians follow a similar map, with main branches and smaller tributaries that lead off from the original meridians. The Yin and Yang elements figure prominently in energy medicine and acupuncture practice in the Chinese tradition.

While there are many ancient traditions, modern acupuncture techniques – no matter the style – are proving to be very effective for treating depression and anxiety.

Modern science has attempted to explain exactly how acupuncture works, with the most recent theory describing the modality within a rigorous mathematical framework called the “chaotic wave theory of fractal continuum” which also brings electromagnetism and brain wave research into the equation.

Modern Science and Acupuncture Efficacy

Though there has been a massive push for anti-depressants, often with questionable results of late, even the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that there is “evidence for the use of acupuncture to treat anxiety disorders” with the evidence growing stronger all the time.

The ADAA suggests that complementary medicine such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture can be very effective for treating anxiety and depression. There is also ample additional scientific evidence to support this claim.

It is clear modern science struggles to name the exact mechanisms active in acupuncture that effectively address anxiety and stress, but studies are being done. One such study published in the journal Endocrinology, has proven that acupuncture blocks the stress-response in the hypothalamus-adrenal-pituitary axis in rats. In a follow-up study, even chronic stress was alleviated in rats when treated with acupuncture.

Scientific reviews of acupuncture show that it is more effective than the control in many studies. Moreover, an integrative review of existing clinical studies completed since 2016 found that at least 11showed strong support that acupuncture could help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The Gut and Acupuncture

It should be mentioned, with recent studies linking gut health, the inflammatory response and depression that acupuncture may help alleviate symptoms directly through an alteration of the gut-brain axis.

The brain and the gastrointestinal tract communicate via a two-way connection known as the “brain-gut axis.” It is well documented that the gut is lined with neurons which communicate the health of the body and the state of the digestive system to the brain and nervous system. When acupuncture is utilized, the delicate balance of the gut microbiota can be supported, which may in turn, boost hormonal changes that prevent anxiety and depression.

In Summary

That acupuncture can help treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety have been documented in ancient texts, and are now being replicated in scientific research. Though allopathic medicine is still uncertain of all the ways in which acupuncture alters our qi, and grosser elements of the physical constitution, this holistic healing modality should be considered as an exceptional method for alleviating emotional and psychological ailments.

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