Acupuncture shows promise for depression in
Reported February 22, 2010
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For pregnant women with depression, a
couple months of acupuncture might help reduce the severity of their
symptoms, a small study hints.
The study, which followed 150 pregnant women with major depression, tested
"depression-specific" acupuncture against massage and acupuncture sessions
that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, does not specifically
Researchers found that after eight weeks, women who received
depression-specific acupuncture were more likely to have a treatment
response -- meaning the severity of their symptoms fell by at least half and
they no longer met all of the criteria for diagnosing major depression.
Overall, 63 percent responded to the therapy, versus 37 percent of the
"control" acupuncture group and half of the massage group, according to
findings published in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
But while the findings are promising, questions still remain -- including
whether acupuncture as practiced in the real world can reliably help women
"The acupuncture protocol we have tested appears effective," lead researcher
Dr. Rachel Manber, of Stanford University in California, told Reuters Health
in an email.
"However," she added, "unlike a pill, which always has the same ingredients,
acupuncture, like psychotherapy, varies from one provider to the other."
So while the specific regimen used in this study appeared effective, Manber
said, "I do not think we can say that our study proves that acupuncture is
effective for depression during pregnancy."
It's estimated that 3 to 5 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with
depression, Manber and her colleagues note in their report. Antidepressant
medications are one treatment option, but there are safety concerns.
One recent study, for example, found that pregnant women who started taking
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the second or third
trimester had a higher risk of preterm delivery than other women. SSRIs
include drugs like sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine
Because of the potential for harm from medications, many pregnant women with
depression may prefer psychotherapy or other non-drug options.
Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to
treat a wide variety of ailments. According to traditional medicine,
specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways
that conduct energy, or qi ("chee"), and stimulating these points with a
fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.
Modern research has most often focused on the effects of acupuncture on
painful conditions, like chronic back pain and migraines. Researchers
speculate that it may help ease pain by altering signals among nerve cells
or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system.
It is unclear, Manber said, why acupuncture might help lessen the severity
For their study, she and her colleagues randomly assigned 52 women to
receive depression-specific acupuncture twice a week for four weeks, then
weekly for another four weeks. Another 49 women received control acupuncture
and 49 received massage. All completed a standard measure of
depression severity at the outset and again after four and eight weeks of
After eight weeks, patients in the depression-specific acupuncture group had
a higher rate of response to treatment. They were not, however, more likely
to see a complete remission in their depression; about 35 percent had a
remission, versus 29.5 percent in the other two groups combined - a
statistically insignificant difference.
Fourteen women who received depression-specific acupuncture reported pain
during the needling, as did seven in the control-acupuncture group.
Overall, Manber's team notes, the response to acupuncture in this study was
comparable to what has been seen in studies of psychotherapy for depression
SOURCE: Obstetrics & Gynecology