Acupuncture helps for depression


by Gord Grant PhD, RAc

Acupuncture or counselling, provided alongside usual care, can benefit patients  with depression, according to a large, well-designed study.

Unfortunately, antidepressants alone don’t work for more than half of patients. There is a demand and a need for non-drug solutions for mental health issues like depression. “Until recently”, says Dr. Hugh MacPherson and his research team, “systematic reviews of acupuncture and counselling for depression in primary care have identified limited evidence that they work”. The aim of this study in England by Dr. MacPherson, and his team, was to evaluate acupuncture or counselling versus usual care (including the continued use of anti-depressant drugs) and counselling for those who continue to experience depression in primary care.

This represents a high standard of research, where 755 patients with depression were recruited from 27 primary care practices in the North of England. Patients were randomised to one of three groups using a ratio of 2:2:1 to acupuncture (302), counselling (302), and usual care alone (151). They evaluated the patients with a standard Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) at the beginning, at 3 months and then a 12 month follow-up after treatments.  Patients attended about ten sessions for acupuncture or counselling. Compared to usual care, there was a statistically significant reduction in depression at 3 months for acupuncture and counselling, and also over the following 12 months for acupuncture. The differences between acupuncture and counselling were not significant. No serious treatment-related adverse events were reported. In terms of limitations, this pragmatic trial was not designed to determine the impact of the placebo. In fact, placebo type research for either acupuncture or councelling requires and understanding of actual active mechanisms of how either works in order to create a true placebo treatment; at this point in time, it is debated in research groups as to if it is possible.

Conclusions: Dr. MacPherson and his team conclude that patients in this research trial who received either acupuncture and counselling had a significant reduction in depression at 3 months when compared to usual care alone.

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