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Why psychiatrists are recommending acupuncture to their patients

by Mar 1, 2023

Home » NUHS Blog » Why psychiatrists are recommending acupuncture to their patients

Meeting with a therapist and taking prescription medication isn’t the only way to effectively treat common mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. As acupuncture continues to move into mainstream medicine, psychiatrists are among the many practitioners who are referring their patients to acupuncture clinics. 

At National University of Health Sciences Whole Health Center and his private clinic in Naperville, David Mayer, DACM, LAc., ACSM-CPT, NASM-CNC, commonly treats depression and anxiety. Often it is the root cause of symptoms such as headaches, GI issues, insomnia, and low energy that patients seek treatment for. In addition to treating those symptoms, he also provides a treatment strategy that helps reduce ongoing anxiety or depression. 

“When patients come in for regular treatments, acupuncture can be an effective way to improve mental wellbeing,” he said. 

According to Dr. Mayer, acupuncture helps regulate the internal excesses or deficiencies that contribute to mental health issues. Today, the World Health Organization recommends acupuncture for the treatment of over 100 different conditions, including depression. 

In this blog, Dr. Mayer shares four reasons why psychiatrists today are recommending acupuncture as an effective treatment tool. 

More research is coming out in support of acupuncture for mental health 

Acupuncture has recently become popular as a pain relief tool that, unlike opioids, comes without addiction or side effects. In addition to treating pain symptoms, new studies show that acupuncture has significant benefits for mental health as well. 

A 2021 study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry found that acupuncture therapy aimed at reducing anxiety in patients has beneficial effects compared to controls. Similarly, a 2020 study found that in the treatment of chronic pain with depression, acupuncture could get better clinical efficacy compared with medicine therapy. Additionally, it could be used in patients who had poor response to the conventional medication and serious side effects.  

Studies have also found that acupuncture could be useful alongside medication. In a 2019 Journal of Clinical Medicine study, researchers stated that acupuncture showed clinically-relevant benefits in reducing the severity of depression compared to sham acupuncture, usual care, and as an adjunct treatment to anti-depressant medication. 

There are few side-effects 

One of the biggest advantages of acupuncture is that it has no negative side effects or contraindications. This can be particularly beneficial for pregnant women, who are unable to take certain medications or want to reduce the amount of medication they’re taking. It can also be beneficial for those who use prescription medication. 

Acupuncture gives patients a lot of options. Acupuncturists can even treat side-effects patients are experiencing from their medication alongside treating their mental health concerns. Additionally, acupuncture can help reinforce the main function of the medications by helping to stimulate the central nervous system.  

The results can be immediate 

When treated with acupuncture, most patients will get off the table feeling better than when they walked in. Results are frequently immediate.

Since acupuncture moves qi, blood and fluids which can reduce inflammation and thereby reduce pain, I regularly see pain reduction immediately after treatment – not just from endorphin release but from the reduction of inflammation. According to researchers, chronic inflammation may be linked to depression.

The only problem is, as I tell my patients regularly, I can’t put them in a bubble and send them home. Life is what it is, so how long the results last varies. 

For the best results, regular visits are key. I see most patients once a week and other patients once a month for a tune up. 

More people are seeking help for their mental health 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have sought help for their mental health issues. So many, in fact, that many psychiatrists have long waitlists and are struggling to keep up. According to a Washington Post article, this increase in demand has led to 3-6 month long waits to get an appointment. 

Acupuncturists have seen an increase, too. Over the past few years, the majority of my patients have received treatment for some sort of stress or anxiety along with other pathologies. 

 Most people now understand what it is to deal with elevated stress and anxiety (from COVID, national/world economics, war in Ukraine) on a regular basis.  

One positive outcome is that today, people’s perspectives about mental health are changing. It is no longer a topic that’s considered taboo. The negative stigma of mental health issues is diminishing. 

Acupuncture can treat multiple disorders like pain and depression at the same time 

Depression and chronic pain are frequently seen together. According to a journal article published in Neural Plasticity, “chronic pain, as a stress state, is one of the critical factors for determining depression, and their coexistence tends to further aggravate the severity of both disorders.” 

One of the great things about acupuncture is that it can “multitask” points and treatment strategies. In clinic, acupuncturists can treat a patient for both pain and mental health conditions all in one visit. This can help patients get the most out of their appointments and their time. 

Depending on what a patient is going through, acupuncture can effectively treat a long list of conditions. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all method. Rather, acupuncture treatments are a directed treatment strategy based on a patient’s needs, which focus on the root and branches of a problem. As a result, acupuncture won’t just make you feel better, it can also help improve your overall health. 

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About the Author

Dr. David Mayer

Dr. David Mayer

David Mayer, DACM, LAc., ACSM-CPT, NASM-CNC, has been Chief Clinician of the Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Department, including the Veterans Clinic, since 2023. He has also been a lecturer since 2022. Dr. Mayer splits his time between the NUHS Whole Health Center and his practice, DuPage Acupuncture Clinic in Naperville, which he opened in 2016. He specializes in treating the side effects for patients going through cancer treatments. He also treats a wide range of conditions, including neuromusculoskeletal pain and functional issues, sleep and stress disorders, digestive issues, women’s health issues and facial rejuvenation. Dr. Mayer graduated valedictorian with his Master of Science in Oriental Medicine from National University of Health Sciences and earned his Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine from Pacific College of Health and Sciences. He is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, is a certified personal trainer and also a certified nutrition coach. In addition, he earned his Master of Science in Geology and his Bachelor of Science in Geology from Northern Illinois University.


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