Acupuncture may be a powerful aid for people suffering from severe depression, according to a new study in Australia.
The study, conducted by researchers at the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney, showed a marked improvement in a group of people with medicated depression who were treated with traditional Chinese needle therapy for two months.
Researchers found that those with severe depression, particularly men, benefited most from the alternative therapy, still a controversial treatment option the medical world says only has 'limited use'.
"What we've managed to show is that acupuncture can be a powerful aid to use alongside anti-depressants to help these people. That's very exciting for a condition that is potentially very debilitating," The NZPA quoted Kirk Wilson, a researcher at the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney, as saying.
For the study, researchers enlisted a group of about 40 people with severe depression, and allocated half to get 12 acupuncture treatments over eight weeks.
All were taking a standard SSRI antidepressant like Aropax, Prozac or Zoloft.
The results showed that the average depression score among the group dropped from 30 pre-treatment, a severe rating, to 15 post-treatment, a mild rating.
Researchers found that those in the non-treatment group remained static on 30.
"That's a pretty remarkable improvement," Wilson said.
He said the mechanism was unclear, but it appeared the therapy was regulating energy channels within the body.
"We're using acupuncture to regulate the energy flow, release pressure and allow everything to move more freely," he said.
However, Western medical practitioners remain doubtful, saying the study was limited in its format and there was no proof the treatment continued to work over time.
Professor Michael Baigent, clinical adviser to beyondblue, said that the research into new ways to tackle the problem was important, as drug therapies were not effective for all patients.
"But there's really still not enough convincing evidence for us to be advocating this as a main form of treatment," Baigent said.
He said that anti-depressants, psychological therapies, exercise and treatment of related medical conditions like anaemia remain the best treatments.