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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr 18;(2):CD004046.

Acupuncture for depression.

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  • 1School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, City East Campus, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 5001.

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There is interest from the community in the use of self help and complementary therapies for depression. This review examined the currently available evidence supporting the use of acupuncture to treat depression.


To examine the efficacy and adverse effects of acupuncture for depression.


The following databases were searched: Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) MEDLINE (1966 to Sept 2003) EMBASE (1980 to Sept 2003) PSYCINFO (1874 to Sept 2003) the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (DARE) CISCOM, CINAHL (January 1980 to Sept 2003). The following terms were used: depression, depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder and acupuncture.


Inclusion criteria included all published and unpublished randomised controlled trials comparing acupuncture with sham acupuncture, no treatment, pharmacological treatment, other structured psychotherapies (cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy or counselling), or standard care. The following modes of treatment were included: acupuncture, electro acupuncture or laser acupuncture. The subjects included adult men and women with depression defined by clinical state description, or diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), Research Diagnostic Criteria (RDC), or the International Classification of Disease (ICD).


Meta analysis was performed using relative risk for dichotomous outcomes and weighted mean differences for continuous outcomes, with 95% confidence intervals. Primary outcomes were reduction in the severity of depression, measured by self rating scales, or by clinician rated scales; and an improvement in depression defined as remission vs no remission.


Seven trials comprising 517 subjects met the inclusion criteria. Five trials (409 subjects) included a comparison between acupuncture and medication. Two other trials compared acupuncture with a wait list control or sham acupuncture. Subjects generally had mild to moderate depression. There was no evidence that medication was better than acupuncture in reducing the severity of depression (WMD 0.53, 95%CI -1.42 to 2.47), or in improving depression, defined as remission versus no remission (RR1.2, 95%CI 0.94 to 1.51).


There is insufficient evidence to determine the efficacy of acupuncture compared to medication, or to wait list control or sham acupuncture, in the management of depression. Scientific study design was poor and the number of people studied was small.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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