Acupuncture and Natural Treatment 
Options for Depression

By Amie Brooke, L. Ac, MSOM
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Marin
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in San Francisco

Approximately 38 million Americans suffer with chronic anxiety or depression. One out of eight adults are currently taking antidepressant medications--that statistic alone is depressing. While these medications can offer support and benefit for certain individuals, there are indeed many people that do not respond well to this form of treatment. This can be due to a number of factors including:

  • Unpleasant side effects that outweigh the benefits of the medication

  • A developed tolerance to the medication that causes benefits to diminish

  • Excessive sensitivity to the concentrated, chemical nature of these medications

  • Depression that is not due to a biochemical imbalance, but is the result of a deeper unresolved spiritual issue  

In my clinical practice, I have worked with a number of patients who were convinced that they had run out of options after finding medications and/or talk therapy to be ineffective for their needs. Many of these people try acupuncture as a last resort. Based on the experience I have in working with numerous patients who suffer from chronic depression, I truly believe that Chinese medicine, nutritional supplementation, meditation, and yoga can offer tremendously helpful support in healing the root causes of this epidemic. This approach is much more comprehensive and much less invasive to the brain than using SSRI medications. It accounts not only for biochemical factors, but also energetic, nutritional, and spiritual influences as well.


Practiced for over 2,500 years, acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine that treats the energetic level of the human body and mind. As surprising as it is to most people, acupuncture is usually a profoundly relaxing experience that establishes a deep quality of restoration and balance to the central nervous system. Most people feel altered, dreamy, or sleepy after treatment. This feeling tends to stick around for a few hours after the treatment and becomes a more continuous experience with repetitive treatment. Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of Qi, or internal life force in the body.

Chinese Herbs

There are a number of Chinese herbal formulas and Western herbs and minerals that can work wonders for depression. I use a variety in my practice to treat this condition. Each individual’s condition is unique, so the herbal therapy is also customized.


One of the most important considerations here is to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. Many patients with depression suffer from hypoglycemia. They tend to eat refined carbohydrates and/or drink coffee to start the day, only to experience the typical 'crash' around 2-4pm. To keep the blood sugar stable, begin the day with a high protein breakfast such as eggs, turkey bacon, whole oats, or smoothies with whey or goat protein in them. Eat a low glycemic snack every 2-3 hours. Avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine. It can also be revealing to avoid allergenic foods such as wheat, gluten, pasteurized dairy, and refined sugar for one month to see if the depression significantly improves.

Meditation and Yoga

Many people find meditation and yoga to be their most powerful allies in healing depression. With regular practice of various breathing techniques and yoga postures, people often feel that they have much more control over the depression and that it need not run their life anymore. These practices can be direct gateways to the rest and restore mode of the nervous system. On a deeper level, they can help us forge a spiritual connection with our lives that instills an unshakable sense of trust and safety in the workings of the universe.

From a holistic perspective, our symptoms are never random. There is always a reason why they creep up. In the case of depression, it is helpful to disengage from our personal feelings about it and look at the bigger picture. What is the depression telling us about ourselves? Is it a warning sign that something is amiss and needs to be acknowledged or changed? In any regard, the practices mentioned here can offer a profound level of support in getting to the root of the problem and inducing a gentle course in a new direction of inspiration and insight.

Amie Brooke Nelson, MSOM is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and holistic nutritional therapist. She can be reached at (415) 322-3134.