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Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Major Depressive Disorder: The American Psychiatric Association Task Force Report

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(6):669-681
10.4088/JCP.10cs05959blu

Objective: To review selected complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD).

Participants: Authors of this report were invited participants in the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Evidence: The group reviewed the literature on individual CAM treatments for MDD, methodological considerations, and future directions for CAM in psychiatry. Individual CAM treatments were reviewed with regard to efficacy in MDD, as well as risks and benefits. Literature searches included MEDLINE and PsycINFO reviews and manual reference searches; electronic searches were limited to English-language publications from 1965 to January 2010 (but manual searches were not restricted by language). Treatments were selected for this review on the basis of (1) published randomized controlled trials in MDD and (2) widespread use with important clinical safety or public health significance relevant to psychiatric practice. An action plan is presented based on needs pertaining to CAM and psychiatry.

Consensus Process: Consensus was reached by group conferences. Written iterations were drafted and sent out among group members prior to discussion, resolution of any differences of interpretation of evidence, and final approval.

Conclusions: A review of randomized controlled trials for commonly used CAM treatments such as omega-3 fatty acids, St John’s wort (Hypericum), folate, S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe), acupuncture, light therapy, exercise, and mindfulness psychotherapies revealed promising results. More rigorous and larger studies are recommended. Each CAM treatment must be evaluated separately in adequately powered controlled trials. At this time, several CAM treatments appear promising and deserve further study. The greatest risk of pursuing a CAM therapy is the possible delay of other well-established treatments. Clinical, research, and educational initiatives designed to focus on CAM in psychiatry are clearly warranted due to the widespread use of CAM therapies.

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(6):669–681

Submitted: January 5, 2010; accepted March 22, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10cs05959blu).

Corresponding author: Marlene P. Freeman, MD, Perinatal and Reproductive Psychiatry Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, 185 Cambridge St, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02114 (mfreeman@partners.org).