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Acupuncture: can it support mental health?

Written by: Dr. Yaad Shergill, DC, CAC, M.Sc (Cand), CAPM Dip



Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social state of well-being. That being said, mental health impacts and influences our mood, relationships, thoughts and behaviour.

Mental health and mental illness is typically managed by psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both. What you may not know is that there is some clinical evidence that acupuncture can be used to support our mental health.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been around for ages, over 2,000 years old to be somewhat specific. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on your body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, energy or “qi” flows up and down channels in the body. This energy can be stagnant, excessive, blocked or unbalanced which can lead to disease, illness and/or discomfort. Acupuncture improves flow of energy and promotes healing.

Clinical research suggests that acupuncture can assist with anxiety and promote relaxation through regulating the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, our “fight or flight system”. Acupuncture points in the stomach, (we promise they do not hurt) help activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is also known as our rest and digest system.

Is there any clinical research on acupuncture for mental health

This is what you really want to know isn’t it. You all know my love for research, right? I truly believe in the importance of health research to help us reach new heights in evidence-based medicine. In the last decade, there has been some research supporting the use of acupuncture for mental health. For all the science geeks, this means that there is the use of an acceptable control (sham acupuncture – which is a device that has a retractable acupuncture needle that makes contact with the skin but does not penetrate) along with well-designed, large scale randomized control trials (gold standard study

design).

A 2015 randomized controlled trial reported that acupuncture improved anxiety in people with anxiety that did not respond to other treatments such as psychotherapy and medication when compared to people who did not have acupuncture. The proposed protocol for these people included ten, 30-minute sessions of acupuncture over 12 weeks.

A meta-analysis, is a study where the data from individual studies are combined to present one result. So, for example if we there are five individual studies, completed in the years of 2013, 2014 and 2016 with 800, 900, 1050 participants respectively, a meta-analysis would combine the participants for a total of 1940 participants which is better for crunching numbers and reporting results. In 2018, a meta-analysis of 13 papers on acupuncture for anxiety, concluded that acupuncture was better than sham (fake) acupuncture for the management of anxiety symptoms. There is a need for more stringent methodology and quality of clinical research. The added benefit to acupuncture is that is has an excellent safety profile, meaning that few side effects occur when treatment is provided by a trained practitioner.

Risks of Acupuncture

The risks of acupuncture are low and include soreness, minor bleeding or bruising where the needles are inserted. We will always use single-use, disposable, sterile needles, so that the risk of infection is minimal.

There are some individuals that are at a higher risk for complications with acupuncture:

If you have a bleeding disorder. The changes of bleeding or bruising from acupuncture needles increase in individuals with a bleeding disorder or those that are taking blood thinners.

If you have a pacemaker. Electro-acupuncture is the use of mild electrical pulses to the acupuncture needles that may interfere with pacemaker’s operation.

If you are pregnant. Certain points on the body, if stimulated with acupuncture needles, can stimulate labor. Unless you’re ready to give the eviction notice, it is best to steer clear from these points during pregnancy.


If you're thinking about acupuncture treatments, and unsure whether it is the best fit for you, book a visit with Dr. Yaad Shergill.