Acupuncture for Depression

Acupuncture for DepressionPotential patients are always so surprised to hear that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can work with balancing the emotions and managing stress.  It’s no surprise to us, as we know everything in the body is connected—the physical and the mental. 

The most common areas that we work in concerning mental health would be with the emotions stress, depression and anxiety.

Since we have an alternate page on our site dedicated to anxiety, we’ll speak more about the doldrums around depression here.

Depression can be subtle, it can creep up when you least expect it and linger.

It can show it’s face suddenly during the holidays or when the weather is intensely gloomy like in Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Sometimes a patient may be experiencing depression and might not even know it, they may just think they are fatigued or tired.  That being said, depression can affect all the other systems and balance in the body and create additional issues like fatigue, poor appetite, a foggy head or bigger issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia.  This is just one example of how depression can wreak havoc on the body, there are other patterns that it can follow and the beauty of our medicine is we are aware of that and can treat it accordingly.

Where Western medicine might prescribe the latest anti-depressant–  which might be prescribed to everyone that week.  It’s not custom made and may or may not work– or worse yet it may work too well. We’ve seen many patients over the years that say, “I got tired of feeling numb, sure I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t happy either.”  Anti-depressants also cannot tackle some of the other issues that may come with it, like the ones I mentioned above.  We view the body as a whole and no symptom or system stands alone.  When we work with patients we start with a blank canvas and through thorough investigation and tools like tongue and pulse diagnostics we can uncover what is really going on in the deeper areas of the body.

Patient Spotlight:

A recent 43-year-old male patient came to our clinic, Tao to Wellness in Berkeley.  His symptoms were a little different than the picture I painted above.  He had been suffering from depression for five years since his wife passed away.  He felt angry that he was robbed of his future with her, as they were just starting to try to get pregnant.  There were moments he would get so angry he wanted to scream and punch a wall.  Other times he got so depressed he couldn’t get off the couch and so he just watched TV all day.  He was constipated and had trouble sleeping; he usually woke up at 1am and stayed up until about 3am.  He had a constant headache on the left side of his head often directly above the ears and he had trouble breathing deeply.  He also had taken a minor drinking problem, not in excess but certainly more than he used to, about 2-3 glasses of wine a night.

acupuncture for depressionSo, what’s our diagnosis?

Our poor guy has a lot going on.  First of all, if we look at things from a Chinese medicine point of view, his Liver, Lung, Gall Bladder and Large Intestine is having some balance issues.  Let’s break it down:

  • Liver—Depression and anger are the emotions associated with the Liver. His trouble sleeping, especially between the hours of 1am-3am (which is the time for the Liver to work to it’s maximum).  And of course, the additional alcohol intake although it’s soothing him to get through, is not helping his Liver or its ability to process emotions.
  • Lung—The Lung’s emotion in Chinese medicine is sadness and grief. The Lung is also partner in crime to the Liver, so it makes sense that this relationship is out of balance.  The fact, he can’t breathe deeply is because the Lung is full of grief and there’s no energetic room to move it or breathe in new life.
  • Large Intestine—It’s obvious the Large Intestine is out of balance because of the constipation, but why? The Large Intestine has a close relationship with both the Liver and the Lung.  Concerning the Liver—there’s so much heat occurring in this organ system (the anger and the alcohol) that it’s heating up the Large Intestine, thereby drying out the stool and causing constipation.  As for the Lung, in Chinese medicine the Lung breathes in new life and the Large Intestine lets go of the past and old patterns.  This poor man is obviously not ready to move on, hence the breathing and the constipation issue.
  • Gall Bladder— Lastly, the Gall Bladder is a partner to the Liver and when the Liver becomes overflowed, the Gall Bladder tries to pick up the slack. In this case, it’s not working and the Gall Bladder is overworked as well, hence the headaches above and around the ears where the Gall Bladder meridian is located.

As you can see, Chinese medicine isn’t as simple as it looks.  There’s a lot of work that goes into deciphering the correct diagnosis, without it we wouldn’t get very far and results would be near impossible.  Our 43-year-old had acupuncture twice a week with needles in the Liver, Lung, Gall Bladder and Large Intestine meridians and also some other meridians that balance these organs respectively.

He also quit drinking alcohol, it wasn’t easy right away, but what helped was acupuncture, it resolved a lot of the cravings—another gorgeous thing about Chinese medicine, we can treat several things at once.  He was able to stop drinking with our help and with the acupuncture creating some flow in the body, we were able to get him to move through all his emotions.  He felt noticeably better after the very first treatment.  His constipation was resolved after a week.  His headaches were gone in two weeks.  His emotions were more stable within the month, but took some more time to stabilize completely.  He will always have a certain amount of sadness around her memory, but he’s more in control of what he’s feeling and when.  We see him once a month to keep day-to-day stress to a minimum and he’s been dating a new woman for 6 months now.

We adore working with patients experiencing depression, we relish in the changes we get to witness and we love to see the light inside them reignited.  Aside from common imbalances like depression and anxiety, we can also treat more illusive issues like sadness, grief and fear.  In fact, after the most recent presidential election, we’ve had many patients feeling so fearful about the state of the world that they come in for weekly acupuncture treatments and that is helping keep their nervous system calm, their sleep restful and stress levels down as we march into the unknown together.

Of course, we’d love to see you in the office for some acupuncture.  Herbs and supplements take care of the subtle daily shifts, but acupuncture is like a rocket ship in resetting the whole body.  We are happy to answer any questions, just reach out!


Wondering what might be happening for you?

Here’s a quick outline of the main organ systems, their associated emotion/color, other possible symptoms and a few nutritional or over the counter herbal remedies you can pick up to help your emotions flow a little smoother. Contact us for more information and to set up a complimentary consultation.


Anger and Depression/Rib area, Forest green
Migraines, PMS, menstrual discomfort, high blood pressure, dizziness, insomnia (mostly trouble staying asleep), pain in the ribs, red eyes, constipation, acne.

Remedy: Milk Thistle, fish oil, watercress, onions, vinegar, lemon, honey.
(one tsp of vinegar/honey or lemon/honey to lift depression)

acupuncture for depressionHeart
Inappropriate Joy/Center of the chest, Emerald Green/Pink
Palpitations, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, low energy, insomnia (mostly trouble falling asleep), spontaneous sweating,

Remedy: Oyster shell (calcium), whole grains, mushrooms, chamomile, valerian.

Worry/Solar Plexus/Yellow
Low energy, paleness, fibromyalgia like muscle pain or weak muscles, flatulence, bloating, bowel issues, (mostly soft or loose stools, but can be constipation), poor appetite,

Remedy: Astralagus Tea, ginger, rye, amaranth, corn, millet, pumpkin, chamomile, paud’arco. Avoid :overeating, gluten and too much raw, cold food or dairy.

Sadness and Grief/Chest area/Silver or White
Shallow breathing, chronic cough, phlegm in the throat, lowered immune system, allergies, asthma, skin diseases, urination issues.

Remedy: Astralagus Tea, garlic, pears, banana, licorice root.

Fear and Anxiety/Low back area/Dark Blue
Sore and weak low back, frequent urination, premature ejaculation, ringing in the ears, constipation, nightsweats, chronic dry throat,

Remedy: Go Ji Berries, lamb, squash, sweet potatoes.