Acupuncture for a new start?
The New Year marks a time for fresh starts which often involve looking at health needs, including treatment alternatives for existing conditions. Traditional acupuncture has become a popular choice, both as a stand alone treatment, and in combination with Western biomedicine. The growing popularity of acupuncture has gained a boost in recent years from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which has endorsed acupuncture treatment for non-specific back pain, and as a prophylaxis for migraine and tension type headaches. So how about acupuncture for a new start?
Acupuncture and Counselling Research
More significantly, in terms of providing a credible endorsement for the scope and effectiveness of acupuncture, last year the results of a well designed piece of research were published by a team at the department of Health Sciences of York University, and was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme. The research set out to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture and counselling, when compared with the usual care of antidepressant medication.
Patients for the programme were selected from patients who had consulted a GP within five years of the start of the trial. Participants were divided into three groups, one received traditional acupuncture treatment, the second, counselling, and the third, solely the usual care of anti-depressant medication. The patients were assigned to a trial group using a randomised controlled method. Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) are now routinely used in clinical trials, where they provide a means of testing the effectiveness of different interventions, by selecting which group the participants of a trial are assigned to. The advantage of using RCTs is that any bias that might exist in the predictions of the different treatment assignments are minimised.
The acupuncture treatment administered was based on a treatment protocol built on traditional acupuncture principles, and was designed to reflect what occurs in routine practice. Although acupuncture is used to treat depression, it’s not common to see it provided within the mental health or primary care systems, and this is a further plus for the research. The practitioners used were all members of the British Acupuncture Council, and all had at least three years’ clinical experience.
The results of the trial were determined by using a Public Health Questionnaire or PHQ-9, which gives a measure of the degree of depression and the response to treatment. The patients were given the questionnaire at three months, with a follow up at 12 months. When both the acupuncture and counselling groups were compared to the usual care alone the patients all showed a significant improvement both after three months and 12 months, with a reduction in the symptoms of their depression. The PHQ-9 scores were for example, 9.4 for the acupuncture group against 12.7 for the usual care alone group (scores over 10 indicate moderate depression, and scores below this, mild depression).