depression may benefit as much from acupuncture as they do from counselling,
suggests a new study. Researchers found one in three patients was no longer
depressed after three months of acupuncture or counselling, compared to one in
five who received neither treatment.
"People who have depression, who
have tried various medical options and who are still not getting the benefit they
want, should try acupuncture or counselling as options that are now known
to be clinically effective," said Hugh MacPherson, the study's lead author
from the University of York in the UK. Previous studies looking at whether
acupuncture helps ease depression have been inconclusive.
Those studies were
also small and didn't compare acupuncture to other treatment options.
"What's more important for the patient is does it work in practice, and
that is the question we were asking," MacPherson said.
For their study, he
and his colleagues recruited 755 people with moderate or severe depression. The
researchers split participants into three groups: 302 were randomly assigned to
receive 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, another 302 received weekly counselling
sessions and 151 received usual care only. About 70% of people had taken
antidepressants in the three months before the study and about half reported
taking pain medications.
People did not have to stop taking their medicine to
participate in the study. At the outset, participants had an average depression
score of 16 on a scale from 0 to 27, with higher scores symbolizing more severe
depression. A 16 is considered moderately severe depression.
Other options available
months, people assigned to the acupuncture group had an average score of about
9 – on the higher end of the mild depression category. Scores fell to 11 among
members of the counselling group and about 13 in the usual care group, both
considered moderate depression. Participants who received acupuncture or counselling
saw larger improvements over three months than those who had neither treatment.
Those benefits remained for an additional three months after the treatments
However, any differences between acupuncture and counselling could have been due to chance, the researchers reported Tuesday in PLOS Medicine. They found doctors would need to treat seven people using acupuncture and 10 people with counselling for one person to no longer be depressed. "What this says is if you don't get completely better, there are other options," Dr Philip Muslin, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York, told Reuters Health.
"One option would be to take a different medication, but by this study these would be valid options," said Muslin, who was not involved with the new research. He cautioned, however, that counselling and acupuncture are not replacements for medication. The majority of study participants were still taking antidepressants at the end of the three months. Muskin said the study also doesn't show what types of patients respond best to acupuncture or counselling.
"What I can't tell from this study is who's
who. Not everybody got better," he said. MacPherson said it's best to ask
patients for their treatment preference."If you talk to people, they would
almost always have a leaning one way or the other," he said. Acupuncture
is only covered by health insurance in the UK for chronic pain, MacPherson
In the US, some plans also cover acupuncture for pain or nausea. According to online information from the Mayo Clinic, the risks of acupuncture are low if people hire competent and certified practitioners. Complications can include soreness, organ injury and infections. "Clearly acupuncture is a new option," Macpherson said. "This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps."
Picture: Acupuncture from Shutterstock