A quick look at PubMed will reveal hundreds of clinical studies on acupuncture and depression. Depression is extremely common in the US and is among the ten most frequently reported medical conditions. About half the people who seek treatment for depression are not helped by psychotherapy and medication.
Of those who recover, more than one third relapse within eighteen months. This suggests that alternative treatment may be very helpful for people who suffer from depression.
A Pilot Study by
Researchers at the University of Arizona
A new pilot study by researchers at the University of Arizona confirmed that acupuncture is a promising treatment for major depression in women.
Thirty eight subjects who participated in the study were adult women diagnosed with mild to moderate depression. They were treated with acupuncture according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, each for her own specific pattern of symptoms.
They were treated twice per week for one month and once per week for a second month, for a total of twelve sessions.
After completion of acupuncture treatment for depression, 70% of women experienced at least a 50% reduction of symptoms, results comparable to the success rate of psychotherapy and medication.
This study is important because it is the first randomized, controlled, double-blinded study of acupuncture’s effectiveness for depression reported in the Western scientific literature.
The study design compared the results of treatment for three groups. Specific treatment involved acupuncture treatment for symptoms of depression. Non-specific treatment involved acupuncture for symptoms not clearly related to depression. The third group was wait-listed for eight weeks. Both placebo or control groups then received treatment specific for depression.
Patients who received the specific treatment improved more during the eight weeks than patients who received the non-specific treatment.
The study was published in the September 1998 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, as “The Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Major Depression in Women.” The authors were John J.B. Allen, Rosa N. Schnyer, and Sabrina K. Hitt.
Acupuncture and Depression Studies
This updated meta-analysis was conducted at the Department of Pharmacology and Biostatistics, Institute of Medical Sciences, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, China.
The following databases were searched: MEDLINE, EMBASE, BIOSIS, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Chinese Scientific Journal Database.
Eight small-randomized controlled trials comparing 477 subjects were included in the meta-analysis. Our results confirmed that acupuncture could significantly reduce the severity of depression, which was indicated by decreased scores of Hamilton rating scale for depression (HAMD) or Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).
This meta-analysis supported that acupuncture was an effective treatment that could significantly reduce the severity of disease in the patients with depression. More full-scale randomized clinical trials with reliable designs are recommended to further warrant the effectiveness of acupuncture.
PTSD and Acupuncture
This study was conducted by Hollifield M, Sinclair-Lian N, Warner TD, and Hammerschlag R. at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Geriatric Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the potential efficacy and acceptability of acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People diagnosed with PTSD were randomized to either an empirically developed acupuncture treatment (ACU), a group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or a wait-list control (WLC).
The primary outcome measure was self-reported PTSD symptoms at baseline, end treatment, and 3-month follow-up. Compared with the WLC, acupuncture provided large treatment effects for PTSD similar in magnitude to group CBT.
Symptom reductions at end treatment were maintained at 3-month follow-up for both interventions. The authors concluded that acupuncture may be an efficacious and acceptable nonexposure treatment option for PTSD and recommended larger trials be conducted.
More Acupuncture and Depression Studies
I will be adding more studies on acupuncture and depression as time permits. In the meantime, it’s free to read study abstracts on PubMed should you wish to do further research.