Depression is one of the leading disorders in America today and is the reason our media is permeated with advertisements for one anti-depressant or another.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get through a single evening of television without seeing babies crying and Mommy’s who are too down to move or little cartoon stick figures selling Americans yet another medication for depression. Is that and psychotherapy the only treatment for depression? No. Recently, studies have connected the health benefits of acupuncture with depression. In fact a recent pilot study by researchers at the University of Arizona confirmed that acupuncture is a promising treatment for major depression in women.
Depression is extremely common in the US and is among the ten most frequently reported medical conditions. In fact, roughly half of the people who seek help for this disorder actually receive that help through drugs or psychotherapy alone. About half the people who seek treatment for depression are not helped by psychotherapy and medication or withdraw from treatment too early. 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.
For 3000 years, traditional Chinese medical practitioners have treated everything from headaches to menopause with acupuncture.
Unlike drugs and expensive psychotherapy sessions that take tremendous time and money, acupuncture lasts an up to hour and may be obtained at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, the side effects of acupuncture with sterilized needles are limited to such minor issues as a potential bruise here and there.
As stated earlier, in 1998, researchers at the University of Arizona conducted a double-blind study of the effectiveness of acupuncture on depression. The results demonstrated a dramatic decrease in symptoms in more than half of the women tested. More specifically, seventy percent of the women in the study experienced a fifty percent reduction in noticeable symptoms of depression.1
The study lasted for two months. During this time, each patient was given twelve acupuncture sessions with the bulk of them received during the first month of treatment. The patients were assigned to one of three groups. The first received immediate acupuncture for depression. The second group received acupuncture treatment for non-specific reasons, and the third group was wait-listed for eight weeks then treated with acupuncture for depression.
While the test group for this study was too small to be considered ground-breaking medically, it is certainly worth considering for anyone who suffers from debilitating depression. For some people acupuncture and depression may well be the key to unlocking the chains that bind them to medications that have been linked to everything from incontinence to suicide.
Other Trials On Acupuncture and Depression
The last two decades has also produced hundreds of uncontrolled and sometimes anecdotal studies of acupuncture for depression, suggesting that acupuncture can have a positive effect on depressed patients, especially in combination with psychotherapy and herbal treatments.
The British Acupuncture Council lists seven controlled trials, four uncontrolled trials, and one case study on this subject. Other sources report that in China multiple trails have been done, though not always by Western empirical standards.
Another trial from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Mainz showed that patients received a significantly higher therapeutic benefit from acupuncture plus medication versus medication alone.
Yet another, randomized control trial in Germany had similar successful results for acupuncture, though it seemed to imply that the number of treatment sessions and the skill of the acupuncturist in choosing the right points was a factor in the effectiveness of the treatment.
In a series of trails at the Institute of Mental Health at Beijing University the treatment of depression using electro-acupuncture versus a tricyclic antidepressant. Results consistently showed that acupuncture was as effective as the antidepressant in treating depression, and was even more effective in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety without the side effects of medication.
In other related research, Harvard Medical School proved that stimulating specific acupressure points can send signals to deactivate areas of the brain that are responsible for the experience of pain, fear, and anxiety.