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Acupuncture for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Carmen Andreescu, MD; Ronald M. Glick, MD; Chetachi A. Emeremni, MA; Patricia R. Houck, MS; and Benoit H. Mulsant, MD

Published: May 3, 2011

Article Abstract

Background: Over 50% of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) either do not tolerate or do not respond to antidepressant medications. Several preliminary studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture in the treatment of depression. We sought to determine whether a 2-point electroacupuncture protocol (verum acupuncture) would be beneficial for MDD, in comparison to needling at nonchannel scalp points with sham electrostimulation (control acupuncture).

Method: Fifty-three subjects aged 18-80 years, recruited via advertisement or referral, were included in the primary analysis of our randomized controlled trial, which was conducted from March 2004 through May 2007 at UPMC Shadyside, Center for Complementary Medicine, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Inclusion criteria were mild or moderate MDD (according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Disorders) and a score of 14 or higher on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). Exclusion criteria included severe MDD, seizure disorder or risk for seizure disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder, chronic MDD, treatment-resistent MDD, and history of substance abuse in the prior 6 months. Patients were randomized to receive twelve 30-minute sessions of verum versus control acupuncture over 6 to 8 weeks. The HDRS was the primary outcome measure. The UKU Side Effect Rating Scale was used to assess for adverse effects.

Results: Twenty-eight subjects were randomized to verum electroacupuncture and 25 to control acupuncture. The 2 groups did not differ with regard to gender, age, or baseline severity of depression. Both groups improved, with mean (SD) absolute HDRS score decreases of −6.6 (5.9) in the verum group and −7.6 (6.6) in the control group, corresponding to 37.5% and 41.3% relative decreases from baseline. There were no serious adverse events associated with either intervention, and endorsement of adverse effects was similar in the 2 groups.

Conclusions: We were unable to demonstrate a specific effect of electroacupuncture. Electroacupuncture and control acupuncture were equally well tolerated, and both resulted in similar absolute and relative improvement in depressive symptoms as measured by the HDRS.

Trial Registration: Identifier: NCT00071110

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(8):1129-1135

Submitted: March 10, 2010; accepted August 16, 2010.

Online ahead of print: May 3, 2011 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06105).

Corresponding author: Benoit H. Mulsant, MD, Geriatric Mental Health Program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 1001 Queen St West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6J 1H4 (

Volume: 72

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