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The Safety, Acceptability, and Effectiveness of Acupuncture as an Adjunctive Treatment for Acute Symptoms in Bipolar Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70(6):897-905
10.4088/JCP.08m04208

Objective: There is growing interest in the utility of nonpharmacologic treatments for mood symptoms, including mood elevation and depression associated with bipolar disorders. The purpose of this research was to provide preliminary data on the safety, effectiveness, and acceptability of adjunctive acupuncture in the acute treatment of hypomania and depression associated with bipolar disorder.

Method: Two randomized trials were conducted to assess the benefits of adjunctive acupuncture for symptoms of depression and hypomania in patients with bipolar disorder (DSM-IV criteria). For 20 patients experiencing symptoms of hypomania, targeted acupuncture (points specific to symptoms) was compared to acupuncture points off the acupuncture meridian over 12 weeks (from May 2000 through May 2003). For patients experiencing symptoms of depression (n = 26), targeted acupuncture was compared to acupuncture for nonpsychiatric health concerns over 8 weeks (from November 2001 through May 2003). Preexisting psychotropic medications were maintained at stable doses throughout study participation.

Results: Regardless of acupuncture assignment or symptom pattern at entry, all patients experienced improvement over the course of study participation. There was evidence that acupuncture treatment did target the symptom dimension of interest (mood elevation in Study I, depression in Study II). There were few negative side effects and no attrition directly associated with adjunctive acupuncture.

Conclusion: Novel methodologies are needed to assess the utility of acupuncture as adjunctive treatment of mood episodes associated with bipolar disorder. We observed similar benefits associated with "placebo" acupuncture experiences and active treatment. Further studies are warranted.

Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00071669