Study shows depression eases with acupuncture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am


Acupuncture can complement drugs when treating patients for depression, according to a study by University of Hong Kong researchers.

The research, led by Dr Zhang Zhang-jin, found that patients treated with electrically charged acupuncture needles to points in the head along with drugs rated themselves in happier spirits than those given a placebo.

Rather than focusing on the two acupoints traditionally used for treating depression, Zhang's team developed a strategy using seven in an attempt to release serotonin, a chemical in the brain influencing emotion.

Dr Roger Ng Man-kin of Kowloon Hospital's psychiatry department, and a member of the research team, said additional treatment for depression was needed as antidepressants could take between four and eight weeks to have an affect.

'Within this period, there is the danger that heavily depressed patients may self-destruct, particularly those who are suicidal,' Ng said.

Antidepressants do not work in 40 per cent of patients, and even when they do, there can be detrimental side effects, he said.

The research team selected 73 patients aged 25 to 65 taking antidepressants for moderate depression. Thirty-eight were given the electro-acupuncture and 35 underwent a non-invasive treatment to check for a placebo effect.

The patients received nine 45-minute acupuncture treatments over three weeks, and although assessments by doctors and patients showed improvements in both groups, those who underwent electro-acupuncture improved by 2.39 points on a scale of 29 as assessed by physicians, and 4.68 points on a scale of 75 in patients' self-assessments. The research team says the results are significant and worth further research.

'We do not yet know what the rate of recurrence for depression is for patients who have undergone the electro-acupuncture treatment,' Zhang said. 'We will need to assess the patients for [one] to two years.'

Ng said faith in traditional medicine was vital to its success as 'when a patient believes the treatment will work, it makes all the difference'.