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GPs ‘should prescribe acupuncture for anxiety’, says membership body

GPs ‘should prescribe acupuncture for anxiety’, says membership body

The British Acupuncture is calling on health care professionals across the UK to consider prescribing acupuncture for patients with anxiety.

It comes at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from today (Monday 13 May 2019) to Sunday 19 May 2019.

According to recent evidence (1) acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety with research showing that between 1-30% of the global population suffers from some sort of the condition (2).

Head of research at the British Acupuncture Council, Mark Bovey, said: ‘When the body is under stress, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus releases neurochemicals, and research shows that acupuncture can calm this response.

‘Acupuncture has also been shown to increase the release of endorphins, the body’s own ‘feel-good’ chemicals, which play an important role in the regulation of physical and emotional stress responses such as pain, heart rate, blood pressure and digestive function. All of these acupuncture mechanisms have a direct effect on reducing anxiety.

‘At a time when the NHS is under such pressure, GPs and other healthcare professionals should be considering acupuncture as either an alternative or complementary treatment. The evidence is there to prove that it is effective.’

In 2017, the Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald PhD and Dr Stephen Janz, showed that acupuncture was moderately effective in treating anxiety. The evidence included a 2016 systematic review, with over 400 randomised patients, that concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant compared to conventional treatments’ (3). The biggest of these studies, which included 120 randomised patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms (4).

A more recent systematic review published in 2018 found that all 13 included studies ‘reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to control groups.’ Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls (5).

The British Acupuncture Council has been working with the charity Anxiety UK to gather anxiety outcomes data from patients having a course of six acupuncture treatments as in usual practice. Preliminary results on 30 patients indicate that the effectiveness is at least as good as that seen with psychological therapies such as CBT.

A spokesperson for Anxiety UK said: ‘There is some evidence that acupuncture can help in the treatment of anxiety and, for some, can be an alternative option or indeed an addition to psychiatric medication and/or talking therapy.

‘While medication, talking therapy or a combination of the two is the NICE recommended treatment for anxiety, for many people living with this condition, other/additional support options are welcomed.

‘On this, Anxiety UK has offered its members access to traditional acupuncture – through its partnership with the British Acupuncture Council – since 2016 and while the sample is small we have achieved some promising, positive results.’

Acupuncture has also been effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a new study (6), researchers in Italy investigated the effects of acupuncture on the victims of a 6.0 earthquake that caused nearly 300 deaths and left 30,000 homeless in Amatrice, Central Italy.

Treatments were performed by medical doctors who had at least three years’ clinical experience with acupuncture. Each subject received four 20-minute acupuncture treatments over consecutive days. Before the acupuncture treatment, more than 68% of the study participants reported having both pain and psychological symptoms that could be associated with PTSD. After the third treatment, both the pain and psychological symptom scores had significantly improved, with no serious adverse effects attributed to the treatment. 

In 2018, The British Acupuncture Council collaborated with Healthwatch Norfolk on an observational study which demonstrated very large improvements in the PTSD outcome measure, so much so that none of the patients were classed as still having PTSD after completing six sessions of acupuncture.

Figures from NHS Digital show that the number of prescription drugs issued in England for conditions such as depression and anxiety, stood at 67.5 million in 2017 – almost double the number dispensed in 2008.

There were similar increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


(1) McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review. Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd. 2017.

(2) Baxter AJ, Scott KM, Vos T, Whiteford HA. Global prevalence of anxiety disorders: a systematic review and meta-regression. Psychological Medicine. 2013; 43:897-910

(3) Goyata SL, Avelino CC, Santos SV, Souza Junior DI, Gurgel MD, Terra FS. Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Rev Bras Enferm. 2016 Jun;69(3):602-9.

(4) Arvidsdotter, T., Marklund, B., & Taft, C. (2013). Effects of an integrative treatment, therapeutic acupuncture and conventional treatment in alleviating psychological distress in primary care patients–a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13(1), 308.

(5) Amorim, D., Amado, J., Brito, I., Fiuza, S. M., Clinical, N. A. T. I., 2018. (n.d.). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Elsevier.

(6) Moirahgi C, Poli P, Piscitelli A, An Observational Study on Acupuncture for Earthquake-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Acupuncture. April 2019.

Notes to editor

For further information on acupuncture, case studies or interviews, please contact Katie Osborne on 07990 922615 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For further information and support with anxiety, call 03444 775 774 or visit:

For a full list of British Acupuncture Council press releases visit the newsroom.

About the BAcC

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists. It is the UK's largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture. BAcC members practise a traditional, holistic style of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment based on a system developed and refined over 2,000 years. To achieve BAcC membership, practitioners must first undertake extensive training in traditional acupuncture (minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent), which includes physiology, anatomy and other biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture.

Traditional acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture as practised by members of the BAcC is based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,500 years. Traditional acupuncture is holistic, not focused on isolated symptoms. It regards pain and illness, whether physical or mental, to be a sign the whole body is out of balance. Western or medical acupuncture is a more recent development practised predominantly by doctors and physiotherapists, who use acupuncture techniques within their existing scope of practice on the basis of a western medical diagnosis. There is a growing body of evidence showing how effective acupuncture is in a range of conditions:

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  • extensive training – minimum three years degree level – with relevant western medicine including anatomy and physiology
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