San Francisco Acupuncture for Stress, Anxiety and Depression

stress2Why should you care about stress?

Stress can lead to poor health, more pain, worse allergies, and mood problems. It can even shorten your life.

You’ve probably heard that you need to manage your stress, but can’t  imagine where you’ll find the time it takes to meditate, do biofeedback, take vacation time, or any of the other many “remedies” for stress reduction.

The good news is that acupuncture, when properly done, can lower your stress levels and leave you calmer, sleeping better, in a better mood and even living longer.  Who wouldn’t want that? Feel good, be strong and live long.  So with acupuncture you not only can solve some of your health problems,  but you strengthen your body and mind so that you’re more resilient, and resistant to the problems life throws at you.

For example, a 50 year old executive in his 50’s contracted tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and was going crazy with 4 children and high stress at work  and came in for treatment.  He started acupuncture treatments and came in weekly for half a year. It was his therapy.  He listened to his favorite jazz while relaxing on the table.  Not only did his tinnitus become less intense, but his sleeping improved and he found that he didn’t have such a “short fuse.”  His stress readings are in the chart below.  As you can see his stress levels were cut in half, just with these weekly visits.  Better mood, better immune system, better sleep, less ringing in the ears.  He’s better at his job, finds it easier to interact with his family and looks forward to his treatments.

Chart of Stress Level LF/HF


I have been studying the stress response in the acupuncture for years, this is my focus, my career.  I believe it is a key aspect of optimal health, and hence  for people who try to get the most out of their lives both at work and at home.  So, please call me!  I will do my best to get you in as soon as possible!  415.775.0117   email

Although stress affects us all in one way or another, it is when it becomes prolonged that it tends to cause the most problems.Acupuncture has been shown to decrease the stress response (see studies below). Stress inherently affects every system in the body from proper digestion and cardiovascular health to the daily functions of the endocrine and immune systems. There are thousands of research articles on the correlation between chronic stress and many diseases.


[expand title=”Q: How many acupuncture treatments will it take to help with stress?  ” alt=”click for more”]A:I ask patients to commit to 6 treatments within a month at first.  I also ask patients to see these treatments as an investment in themselves and their health.  Of course we all worry about the cost of treatment, but especially with acupuncture for anxiety the benefits are so long lasting that it makes good monetary sense too. Usually there will be two more weekly treatments and then the treatments can be spaced out to once a month. Many choose to continue weekly, as they would with other types of psychotherapy. Sometimes one can see improvement immediately after treatment, but sometimes it can take a few treatments to improve. It’s important to complete the series; otherwise you’ve wasted your time and money.


[expand title=”Q: Doesn’t this take a lot of time? How long are the appointments?  ” alt=”click for more”] A:I treat a  broad spectrum of people from CEO’s, to retirees, to new mothers, to entrepreneurs. They actually look forward to the relaxation, time out, and respite that the treatment affords them. They can bring up any new issues, pains or health issues and we can address them then and there and nip problems in the bud before they develop into something more serious. They see the treatments as a way to ward off problems and keep them calm, balanced and productive.


[expand title=”Q:How much will this cost me?  ” alt=”click for more”] A:Initial visit is $105, subsequent visits are $82. Most of my patients opt for packages of acupuncture appointments, since for most conditions they will require a series of treatments. The packages cost $275 for four visits. Seniors and the disabled cost $225 for four visits.When you consider the multiple benefits listed below, better sleep, better mood, less illness, less pain, for less than the cost of a psychotherapy appointment or massage, the value is considerable.  Not to mention it’s a sort of medical insurance policy to keep you well, an investment in your heath.


[expand title=”Q: What about my medications?  ” alt=”click for more”] A:You  can continue to take your anxiety medications during treatment, but the goal is to decrease or stop them eventually.


[expand title=”Q: Do I have to keep having acupuncture treatment for the rest of my life?  ” alt=”click for more”] It depends. Sometimes people are fine after a treatment series and they are able to space out the visits and eventually stop. But the majority of patients want to continue so that they get the benefit of acupuncture on an ongoing basis.


[expand title=”Q: How do I know if I have stress related problems? ” alt=”click for more”] Physical symptoms are

  • Muscle Tension / Headaches / TMJ / Back Pain
  • Cold Extremities / Tingling
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Fatigue
  • Heart Palpitations / Shortness of Breath
  • Increased or Decreased Blood Pressure / Dizziness
  • Sugar Cravings / Low Blood Sugar
  • Decreased Immunity / Frequent Colds or Illness

Emotional symptoms such as:

  • Anger / Aggression
  • Anxiety / Panic Attacks
  • Insomnia / Excessive Sleep
  • Depression
  • Helplessness
  • Excessive Worry
  • Indifference / Apathy
  • Irritability / Moodiness / Involuntary Crying
  • Pessimism

Although stress affects us all in one way or another, it is when it becomes prolonged that it tends to cause the most problems, and prolonged anxiety issues can wreak havoc on your life, your sleep and your general outlook. How can acupuncture help?   Research studies (see below) confirm what acupuncture patients have observed. The treatment itself is relaxing, and there is often a feeling of calm, and control, afterwards.  Though this can be beneficial in and of itself, it may be key in how acupuncture helps the body to heal itself, improve mood, and  to increase longevity. Often patients are able to give up their anti-depressants and pain killers. though that is not required.

Another of my patients says,

“I was having trouble driving on the freeway.  I often would start to get sick to my stomach and nervous. I had heard a lot about Dr. Sparrow and so finally went to see her.  Once I had a few treatments (she uses tiny needles on me since I’m so sensitive) I started to feel much better and my symptom went away.  I go and see her now every week because it has been so helpful and I feel so much better in so many ways.”

Acupuncture has been shown to decrease the stress response (see studies below).

Stress inherently affects every system in the body from proper digestion and cardiovascular health to the daily functions of the endocrine and immune systems. There are thousands of research articles on the correlation between chronic stress and many diseases.

Dr. Sparrow’s blog covers many associated issues concerning stress, anxiety and depression.

If you would like to learn more about stress, acupuncture and health, please read on… [expand title=”Q: What is the stress response? ” alt=”click for more”] There are two key elements in the understanding the stress response:

1) Cortisol, a hormone secreted under stress. This hormone becomes elevated under prolonged stress and can lead to increased pain, inflammation, depression, exhaustion, accelerated aging and poor immunity

2) Sympathetic nervous system, which becomes activated in times of “fright or flight” goes into action during fright, fight, or flight. The “Parasympathetic” of the autonomic nervous system is involved in the restorative functions in the body.

For example, when we are startled by the growl of a dog, there is an almost instantaneous increase in heart rate, all senses are tuned in, and we’re suddenly full of energy and able to either run in a panic or fight off an attack. This is a result of the sympathetic nervous system. But this sudden surge of energy comes at a price. Energy is diverted from regenerative functions of the body. Functions that are not required in the short term for the “fight or flight” are suspended. No digestion, reproduction, or immune functions (why fight a cold if you aren’t going to live another hour?) are undertaken.

[/expand] [expand title=”Q: Why should I care? ” alt=”click for more”] So imagine if the sympathetic arm of the nervous system, and elevated cortisol are allowed to be turned on indefinitely. You would see myopathy and fatigue (from being in overdrive), hypertension (from cardiac stimulation), ulceration and digestive disorders(from digestion being a low priority), infertility, amenorrhea, decreased libido (from decreased reproduction), increased disease risk (decreased immunity), and neuron death (brain damage.) in fact, the above are some of the side effects of prolonged stress.


[expand title=”Q: What is the evidence for stress and disease? ” alt=”click for more”]

Effect of Stress on Longevity:

Both of these stress responses (sympathetic nervous system and cortisol) are also implicated in accelerating aging. It has been shown has shown that stress can cause accelerated aging in the hypocampus, an area in the brain, because of elevated cortisol levels. A recent study by a San Francisco team has shown that stressed mothers (mothers of disabled children) showed advanced aging on a cellular level compared to their non-stressed counterparts.   (This concept is in alignment with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine. One attempts to balance one’s life to preserve their essence (jing) to prolong their life.)

Stress & Depression:

If you stress a Lab Rat; it will take a stronger electrical current than expected to activate their sense of pleasure. Stress and elevated cortisol can have the same effect in humans; i.e. stressed, depressed patients have trouble feeling pleasure, or happiness. For example Patients with Cushing’s syndrome, a pathological surplus of the stress hormone, cortisol, have depression, as do patients administered cortisol-like hormones for treatment of various conditions. Depression is a result of, or a cause of alterations in the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (neurotransmitters in the brain, all linked to mood.) Cortisol can alter the levels of all three of these transmitters. Anti-glucocorticoids, (substances that compete with cortisol) act as anti-depressants in many instances.

This concept is in alignment with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine. If the spirit is not healthy, the body cannot heal.)

Effect of Stress on Immunity:

It is fairly well established that stress can alter the immune response in animals and in humans. It alters T cell function, and can alter the healing process. This can show up in a multitude of ways in the health of an individual. The most commonly measured entity is cortisol, which can become chronically elevated in persons under persistent stress. Acupuncture has been shown to lower cortisol in some studies. Chronic stress can be damaging to the organism because when of long duration, the response itself can damage the system. [/expand] [expand title=”Q: Is there any proof that acupuncture actually lowers the stress response? ” alt=”click for more”]

Besides Dr. Sparrow’s own research showing that a decrease in stress response during acupuncture treatment correlates with successful outcomes there are the following studies:

  • There was a study from Japan that showed that acupuncture decreased the cortisol secretion during surgery and in the postoperative phase.
  • In Germany they showed that needle acupuncture caused a calming of the sympathetic nervous system in-patients with minor depression or anxiety disorder.
  • A Swedish study established that after acupuncture blood flow to the uterus increased and alleviated infertility due to a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity.
  • In China they showed that acupuncture calmed the sympathetic nervous system in drivers.
  • In a prison psychiatric unit in Sweden they showed that auricular acupuncture treatment lowered cortisol levels compared to the untreated group and the acupuncture group required fewer medications.