This month’s edition of the magazine, Scientific American, includes a well-written and informative discussion about the evidence in support of acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of Major Depression. This article also provides a good overview of the challenges associated with clinical trials of acupuncture for depression.
As summarized in the Scientific American article, several published studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of depression. One of the most important studies was conducted by Dr. Hugh MacPherson and colleagues in England. They randomized 755 patients with depression to one of three treatment groups: 1) acupuncture plus usual care; 2) counseling plus usual care; or 3) usual care alone. They found that both acupuncture and counseling were associated with significantly reduced depression compared to usual care alone.
Another randomized clinical trial found that acupuncture in combination with the antidepressant medication paroxetine (Paxil) was more effective at improving symptoms than Paxil alone after 6 weeks of treatment. Yet another study demonstrated that a 6-week course of acupuncture alone was as effective as a course of treatment with the antidepressant medication fluoxetine (Prozac).
In addition to being effective as either a stand-alone or adjunct treatment for depression, acupuncture may be used to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with commonly used medications for depression. A recent study reported “Significant improvement among male participants was noted in all areas of sexual functioning, as well as in both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Female participants reported a significant improvement in libido and lubrication and a nonsignificant trend toward improvement in several other areas of function.” (Reference: Khamba B et al. Efficacy of acupuncture treatment of sexual dysfunction secondary to antidepressants. J Altern Complement Med. 2013; 19(11):862-9).
In my view, acupuncture is not likely to be sufficiently effective to serve as one’s only treatment for depression, but the evidence strongly suggests that acupuncture can play an important and positive role in the treatment of Major Depression and other clinical conditions in which depressed mood and other symptoms commonly associated with depression feature prominently.