Acupuncture Plus Antidepressants: A More Effective Treatment For Depression

Depression and mental health as a whole is a major topic in today’s society that features regularly in mainstream news and affects many Australian families. 

In recent research Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe, positive and cost-effective adjunct therapy for treating depression, chronic pain related to depression, and also showing positive outcomes for major depressive disorder; improving sleep, mood and quality of life 1,2,3.

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The information above is based on recent research from 2015. However it should be noted that major national bodies in the USA and Australia who influence national treatment approaches vary in their recommendations. The USA Dept. of Veteran Affairs using evidence from Jan 2005 – Mar 2013 supports the use of Acupuncture in the treatment of depression giving it a ‘potential positive effect’ rating, the second highest rating it offers 4. However Australian Veteran Affairs says that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to recommend Acupuncture for depression, based on less recent evidence from Sept 2005 – Sept 2010 5.

The findings of more recent top tier research have reflected positively on the use of Acupuncture as a treatment for depression and major depressive disorder.

A 2015 systematic review of 13 randomised controlled trails found that Acupuncture plus antidepressants (SSRIs) was superior to SSRIs treatment alone, concluding that Acupuncture showed ‘potential positive effect’ as an adjunct treatment for depression 1.

The above systematic review also stated that Acupuncture showed an early onset of effectiveness and Acupuncture treatment was deemed safe and well-tolerated by the study participants. Electro-Acupuncture (EA) was shown to be marginally more effective than manual Acupuncture.

A 2015 review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses concluded that Acupuncture was effective and safe in the treatment of major depressive disorder; showing ‘promising evidence’ and in particular improving sleep, mood and quality of life 2. This is the highest level of research evidence.

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The mechanism of action for Acupuncture’s effectiveness for major depressive disorder is the modulation and normalising of the brain’s limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (LPNN), as well as the default mode network (DMN) 2.

In addition to providing the benefits mentioned above, Acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment for depression when compared to the cost of counselling or usual care according to a 2015 review of one randomised control trial 3. However patients should shop around for the most suitable option available to them in their area as prices for these services vary.

Antidepressants are still considered the standard treatment for depression and consultation with you General Practitioner (GP) is always recommended if you believe you may have depression or you desire to change you current antidepressant prescription. You should not stop taking antidepressants without consulting your prescribing doctor first.

If you are currently taking antidepressant medication and want to do more to improve your mental health, contact your local registered Acupuncturist.

For a list of free mental health services that you can call to receive valuable advice and support please click here.

Dr Scott Baker is a registered acupuncturist practicing in Burleigh Waters, Gold Coast. To find out if he may be able to assist with pain, fertility, digestion, hormones, sinus, allergies or other conditions call and book a consultation today or book online at www.alliedacupuncture.com.au

Allied Acupuncture Gold Coast, 2 Executive Drive, Burleigh Waters. 07 5522 1691.

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References

  1. Chan Y-Y et al. “The benefit of combined acupuncture and antidepressant medication for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis” Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015 May;176:106-117
  2. Bosch P, Van Den Noort M, Staudte H, Lim S “Schizophrenia and depression: a systematic review of the effectiveness and the working mechanisms behind acupuncture.” Explore. 2015 Jul-Aug;11(4):281-291
  3. Spackman E et al. “Cost-effectiveness analysis of acupuncture, counselling and usual care in treating patients with depression: the results of the ACUDep trial.” PLoS ONE 2015; 9(11):e113726. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0113726
  4. Hempel S, Taylor SL, Solloway MR, Miake-Lye IM, Beroes JM, Shanman R, et al. VA Evidence-based Synthesis Program Reports. Evidence Map of Acupuncture. Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs; 2014.
  5. Biotext. Alternative therapies and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold and White Card arrangements. In: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs, editor: Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs; 2010.
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Doctors Advised to Refer Low Back Pain Patients for Acupuncture

For patients with acute or sub-acute low back pain Medical Doctors have been advised not to prescribe potentially harmful drugs or expensive, unnecessary tests wherever possible and to refer patients for non-drug therapies including Acupuncture 1.

Acupuncture is one of a small handful of treatments that have been recommended as part of the evidence-based clinical practice guideline published in February 2017 by the American College of Physicians.

The American College of Physicians is a highly esteemed and influential medical body in the USA, whose medical model Australia follows very closely.

Low back pain happens to be one of the most common reasons behind visits to Medical Doctors. Approximately 25% of the population report having experienced low back pain recently and it can be a debilitating condition that severely decreases quality of life.

According to the president of the ACP “Physicians should avoid prescribing unnecessary tests and costly and potentially harmful drugs, especially narcotics, for these patients.”

The ACP recommends Medical Doctors first refer patients for non-drug therapy, including Acupuncture, spinal manipulation, mindfulness-based stress reduction and even motor control exercise. Movement based activities such as tai chi and yoga could be beneficial also.

The guidelines also showed that systemic steroids were ineffective at treating low back pain, as was the commonly prescribed medication acetaminophen.

Opioid-based pain killers (narcotics) are advised as a last resort. This recommendation is likely related to the Centre for Disease Control’s declaration that opioid-based pain killers have become an “epidemic” and that the number of deaths associated with these drugs and risk of addiction is too high.

The ACPs guidelines reflect a growing body of evidence in support of Acupuncture for pain management due to its effectiveness and safety.

Dr Scott Baker is a registered acupuncturist practicing in Burleigh Waters, Gold Coast. To find out if he may be able to assist with pain, fertility, digestion, hormones, sinus, allergies or other conditions call and book a consultation today or book online at www.alliedacupuncture.com.au

Allied Acupuncture Gold Coast, 2 Executive Drive, Burleigh Waters. 07 5522 1691.Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, McLean RM, Forciea MA, for the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2017;166:514-530. doi: 10.7326/M16-2367