According to the most up to date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety. In 2017, The Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald, PhD and Dr Stephen Janz,(1) was published, providing an up-to-date comparative review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture. This comprehensive document, updating two previous reviews, determined that acupuncture is moderately effective in treating anxiety according to high level evidence.(2) Their evidence included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomised patients that concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments.’(3) The largest of these studies, which included 120 randomized patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms.(4)
A more recent systematic review published in 2018 found that all 13 included studies “reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to the control groups.” Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls.(5)
Acupuncture has also been shown to increase the release of endorphins,(6) the body’s own ‘feel-good’ chemicals, which play an important role in the regulation of physical and emotional stress responses such as pain, heart rate, blood pressure and digestive function.(7,8,9,10)
All of these acupuncture mechanisms have a direct effect on reducing anxiety.
McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review. Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd. 2017.
Bazzan AJ, Zabrecky G, Monti DA, Newberg AB. Current evidence regarding the management of mood and anxiety disorders using complementary and alternative medicine. Expert Rev Neurother. 2014;14:411- 23.
Goyata SL, Avelino CC, Santos SV, Souza Junior DI, Gurgel MD, Terra FS. Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Rev Bras Enferm. 2016 Jun;69(3):602-9.
Arvidsdotter, T., Marklund, B., & Taft, C. (2013). Effects of an integrative treatment, therapeutic acupuncture and conventional treatment in alleviating psychological distress in primary care patients–a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13(1), 308. http://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-13-308
Amorim, D., Amado, J., Brito, I., Fiuza, S. M., Clinical, N. A. T. I., 2018. (n.d.). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Elsevier. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.01.008
Ribeiro SC, Kennedy SE, Smith YR, Stohler CS, Zubieta JK. Interface of physical and emotional stress regulation through the endogenous opioid system and m-opioid receptors. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2005;1264-1280.
Harbach H, Moll B, Boedeker RH, et al. Minimal immunoreactive plasma b-endorphin and decrease of cortisol at standard analgesia or different acupuncture techniques. European Journal of Anaesthesiology. 2007; 24:370-6
Li M, Tjen-A-Looi SC, Longhurst JC. Electroacupuncture enhances preproenkephalin mRNA expression in rostral ventrolateral medulla of rats. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;477:61-5
Yin J, Chen J, Chen JDZ. Ameliorating effects and mechanism of electroacupuncture on gastric dysrhythmia, delayed emptying and impaired accommodation in diabetic rats. The American Journal of Physiology. 2010; 298:G563-G570
Agelink MW, Sanner D, Eich H, Pach J, Bertling R, Lemmer W, Klieser E, Lehmann E. Does acupuncture influence the cardiac autonomic nervous system in patients with minor depression or anxiety disorders? Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie. 2003;71:141-9