Acupuncture Reduces Depression During Pregnancy

Women suffering from depression, that are pregnant or wanting to become pregnant, may not know where to turn for help. Treatment with pharmaceutical antidepressants presents potential risks to an unborn child so many women are looking for alternatives. A recent study, out of Stanford University, offers excellent news. This new research suggests that acupuncture is an effective way to safely treat depression during pregnancy (1).

In this study, published in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, 150 women diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder were randomly divided into 3 groups. One group received acupuncture that was specific for depression. The second group received acupuncture that was not specific for their condition and the third group received massage. All participants received a total of 12 treatments within 8 weeks. Participants were evaluated using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Women that received acupuncture treatments specific for their depression experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptoms as well as a higher response rate as compared to women in the other control groups. Sixty-three percent of the women, that were treated with acupuncture specific for their depression, experienced a 53% reduction in symptoms (a change from “severe” to “mild” on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression). Eight weeks after the women stopped receiving treatment 35% still experienced this improvement in their depression. Additionally, the women in the study did not experience any major side effects to treatment.

The authors conclude, by comparing the results of this study, with the results of other depression studies, that acupuncture is as effective at treating depression as psychotherapy and pharmaceutical antidepressants.

This is an excellent study for several reasons; foremost being that the treatments were tailored to treat the Chinese Medical diagnosis of each woman, just as they would be in a true clinical setting outside of a research study. One of the strengths of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is that the practitioner does a holistic health evaluation and then determines the root cause of depression, which varies from one person to the next. The point prescription or acupuncture points chosen address this root cause. The imbalance or cause for depression in one woman may not be the same as the cause in another woman. Therefore not all cases of depression are treated with the same acupuncture points. In this study, the researchers were able to treat the unique presentation of each woman and therefore study acupuncture as it is applied in a real clinical setting. Additionally, great efforts were made on the part of the researchers to create two control groups and to maintain the blinding of both patients and practitioners as much as possible. Having an adequate control group and maintaining patient and practitioner blinding are some of the major challenges to conducting good scientific research on acupuncture in a clinical setting.

The authors conclude, by comparing the results of this study, with the results of other depression studies, that acupuncture is as effective at treating depression as psychotherapy and pharmaceutical antidepressants. This is the first time that we see acupuncture research on depression in pregnant women, verifying both the effectiveness and safety of prenatal acupuncture.

Everyday in our clinic, we see how acupuncture relieves depression in our patients. For a comprehensive and holistic approach that offers life-changing results, we often recommend combining acupuncture with psychotherapy, herbal medicine, proper nutrition or exercise. Acupuncture helps you start feeling better, quickly, so that you can make the changes in your life that you have been wanting to make. Acupuncture works naturally to help you feel more positive, energetic, grounded and focused.

  1. Manber R, et al. Acupuncture for depression during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Mar;115(3):511-20.

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