Acupuncture or counselling, provided alongside usual care, could benefit patients with depression, a recent study has revealed.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of York, found the combination of acupuncture or counselling with usual care had some benefits after three months for patients with recurring depression.
While the news may be welcomed by patients keen to receive non-drug therapies, scientists were quick to point out there is limited evidence to support the use of acupuncture or counselling for depression.
Lead author Dr Hugh MacPherson says in a statement: "Although these findings are encouraging, our study does not identify which aspects of acupuncture and counselling are likely to be most beneficial to patients, nor does it provide information about the effectiveness of acupuncture or counselling, compared with usual care, for patients with mild depression."
The research team randomised patients with depression to receive 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture plus usual care (302 patients), or 12 weekly sessions of counselling plus usual care (302 patients), or usual care alone (151 patients).
The groups that received acupuncture and counselling showed a significant reduction in average depression scores at three months, compared with usual care alone.
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But, there was no significant difference in depression scores between the acupuncture and counselling groups. At nine months and 12 months, because of improvements in the depression scores in the usual care group, acupuncture and counselling were no longer better than usual care.
Dr MacPherson added: "To our knowledge, our study is the first to rigorously evaluate the clinical and economic impact of acupuncture and counselling for patients in primary care who are representative of those who continue to experience depression in primary care."
He adds: "We have provided evidence that acupuncture versus usual care and counselling versus usual care are both associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of depression in the short to medium term, and are not associated with serious adverse events. "
The study was published this week in PLOS Medicine and also involved researchers from the Centre for Health Economics at York and Hull York Medical School. It was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme.