Acupuncture Treatment of Depression Found Effective


Acupuncture Treatment of Depression Found Effective

A recent study of the use of acupuncture for the treatment of depression, reported in USA Today (3/14/96), shows acupuncture comparable to current Western bio-medical treatments in efficacy. Following eight weeks of treatment, approximately 71% of those treated experienced total remission. The study, a collaboration between Prof. John Allen of the University of Arizona and Rosa Schnyer, Cert. Ac., of the Kwan Yin Center for the Healing Arts, Tuscon, was funded by the U.S. Office of Alternative Health (N.I.H.).

A sample of 33 seriously depressed women was chosen after screening to eliminate those with psychotic or suicidal behaviors, and was split into three groups. During the initial eight weeks of the study, Groups I and II received 12 acupuncture treatments. Group I was treated specifically for depression, while Group II was given treatment for presenting conditions other than depression (back pain, digestive disorders, etc.). Group III was "wait-listed", i.e.: received no treatment. During the second eight weeks, groups II and III received treatments specifically for depression. Throughout the study, severity of depression was assessed via a battery of standard psychological tests.

Results show that acupuncture compares favorably with the current pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments. Among those specifically treated for depression, 71% showed complete remission, 21% partial remission and 8% no remission. For subjects in Group III during the wait-list period, 12% showed remission, 25% partial remission and 63% little or no remission. (Biomedical treatments are effective in approximately 70% of all cases, with relapse rates of 30% over an 18 month period). In addition, those treated expressly for depression faired markedly better than those receiving generalized treatments.

Treatment protocols were designed by Ms. Schnyer by matching symptomology for depression listed in DSM-111 with traditional Chinese medical categories. Patients were then treated by other acupuncturists after Ms. Schnyer matched patients to appropriate TCM categories, in an effort to eliminate biasing treatments. TCM treatments for depression focused on moving stagnant liver qi and/or calming disturbed shen, while simultaneously addressing relative imbalances of yin and yang. Treatments were modified by taking into account the patients' menstrual cycles, emphasizing moving stagnation before menstruation and supplementing vacuity after.

Ms. Schnyer was trained at the Tri-State School of Acupuncture, and describes her style as a hybrid of TCM, Japanese and Vietnamese techniques. For this study, however, she elected to use TCM eight principle-type treatments in order to render the treatment rationale and methods accessible to the greatest number of practitioners. Ms. Schnyer is particularly intrigued by similarities in the rates of effectiveness between acupuncture and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (e.g.: Prozac), the current pharmaceuticals of choice for depression. These pharmaceuticals work by effectively raising serotonin concentration. One well-demonstrated effect of acupuncture is to elevate blood serotonin levels, which may explain its effect on depression in the biomedical paradigm.

Both Ms. Schnyer and Prof. Allen take pride in the unique design of this experiment, and have received praise from the Office of Alternative Health for their rigor and innovation. Unlike many past studies of acupuncture, this one avoided sham acupuncture of control patients in which non-point loci or wholly bogus prescriptions are needled, and permitted the individualized treatment of patients without jeopardizing results. It also allowed for the eventual effective treatment of participants.

Long term results will be followed to determine relapse rates and the effect of"tune up" treatments on recurrence of symptoms. Larger clinical trials are also being planned.



By John Varner

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