Acupuncture Can Treat Depression

New study finds it as effective as counseling

Acupuncture can treat depression

Acupuncture can treat depression

To some, acupuncture may seem like some kind of mystical parlor trick without any real medical value, but a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine this week showed that acupuncture can be just as effective as counseling in treating depression.

Study researchers found that one in three patients were no longer depressed after three months of either type of treatment, compared to one in five who received neither treatment.

"For people who have depression, who have tried various medical options, who are still not getting the benefit they want, they should try acupuncture or counseling as options that are now known to be clinically effective," said study author Hugh MacPherson, a research fellow the University of York in the UK.

Previous studies on using acupuncture to treat depression were small, inconclusive and didn't compare acupuncture to other treatments, researchers said.

"What's more important for the patient is does it work in practice and that is the question we were asking," MacPherson added.

In the study, the team recruited almost 760 volunteer diagnosed with moderate or severe depression. Participants were split into three randomly-assigned groups. One group received 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, another participated in weekly counseling sessions and a third received standard care only.

About 70 percent of study volunteers reported taking antidepressants in the three months leading up to the study and about half said they were taking pain medications. Participants were not instructed to stop taking their medicine during the study.

At the beginning of the study, participants had an average depression score of 16 on a scale from 0 to 27, with the 27 representing the greatest level of depression.

After three months, participants in the acupuncture group had an average score of about 9. Those in the counseling group had scores fall to 11 and the standard care group averaged around 13. The larger improvements seen by participants in both the acupuncture group and the counseling group remained for an additional three months after the treatments ended.

MacPherson noted that acupuncture is only covered by health insurance for the treatment chronic pain in his native United Kingdom. In the US, some plans cover acupuncture for pain or nausea.

"Clearly acupuncture is a new option," MacPherson said in reference to depression. "This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps."

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