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Acupuncture for Depression

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Current scientific evidence does not support the use of acupuncture for the treatment of depression.

The Evidence Base

The evidence base on efficacy of acupuncture for depression consists of several randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses. Findings from systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been at best inconsistent regarding efficacy, and there are only a few trials comparing manual acupuncture to control conditions. Evidence is limited due to different types of acupuncture studied, duration and frequency of sessions, and methodological flaws, including small sample sizes, and inconsistent randomization and blinding.

Efficacy

A 2010 Cochrane review (link is external) of 30 studies involving 2,812 participants found insufficient evidence to support the use of acupuncture for people with depression. There was a high risk of bias in most of the trials included in the review, limiting any conclusions based on scientific rigor.

The 2010 American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine report (link is external) found that evidence for the efficacy of acupuncture as a primary treatment of depression is at best inconclusive, and studies to date have been unable to demonstrate efficacy of acupuncture compared to a control for the treatment of MDD.

Safety

Relatively few complications from using acupuncture have been reported. Still, complications have resulted from the use of nonsterile needles and improper delivery of treatments. When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including skin infections, punctured organs, pneumothoraces, and injury to the central nervous system.


Sourced from a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health publication on May 23, 2019