An estimated 17.5 million Americans suffer from depression. People who want to know their options are seeking alternatives to anti-depressant medication. Of course, as an acupuncturist, I am interested in staying on top of recent studies and ensuring I can provide my patients with the most up-to-date information regarding non-prescription treatment options. There are some promising recent studies showing how acupuncture can treat depression, anxiety, and stress. Now there are clear biological explanations for the clinical evidence I have seen. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that “evidence for the use of acupuncture . . . to treat anxiety disorders is becoming stronger.” Reuters health reported on a study from the University of York in the UK. The study recruited 755 people with moderate to severe depression. Seventy percent of the patients had been on anti-depressants and continued on them throughout the study. The study concluded that both acupuncture and counseling (or both) had a strongly positive effect on depression, lowering the depression scale from an average of 16 out of 27 at the start of the study, to 9 for acupuncture and 11 for counseling at its conclusion. The benefits lasted 3 months after treatment had concluded. So how does acupuncture work? The acupuncturist inserts fine needles into certain identified acupuncture points on “meridians” which run throughout the body and correspond to certain organs. Meridians can be thought of as a highway of energy, or “qi” in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture works by getting rid of the roadblocks on this energy superhighway. When there is congestion on the highway, energy gets backed up. When the meridians are clear (no roadblocks), the qi flows freely. Each meridian “homes” to an organ and each organ has certain associations, such as emotions, body parts, organs etc. For example, the emotion of the liver in Chinese medicine is anger. When the qi is blocked it can cause liver qi stagnation, which can result in anger. It goes both ways, though — when you’re angry a lot, you can block the flow of liver qi. Western medicine has shown that acupuncture releases endorphins, and activates natural pain killers. Now we see that it affects other biological functions as well. Chinese medicine sees acupuncture as improving functioning by correcting blockages or imbalances in the organs.