Introduction: Trials of acupuncture for the treatment of depression have produced mixed results. We examined the effectiveness of laser acupuncture compared with placebo acupuncture for the treatment of major depression.
Methods: A randomised, double blinded, placebo controlled trial was conducted in Sydney, Australia. Participants aged 18-50 years with DSM-IV major depressive disorder were eligible to join the study. Forty-seven participants were randomised to receive laser acupuncture or placebo laser at acupoints LR14, CV14, LR8, HT7 and KI3. The intervention was administered twice a week for 4 weeks and once a week for another four weeks, for a total of 12 sessions. The primary outcome assessed the change in severity of depression using the Hamilton-Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), and secondary outcomes assessed the change in severity of depression using the Quick Inventory for Depression-Self Reporting (QID-SR), the Quick Inventory for Depression-Clinician (QIDS-CL), with outcomes assessed at eight weeks. The treatment response (greater than 50% improvement in HAM-D) and remission (HAM-D<8) were analysed.
Results: At eight weeks participants showed greater improvement in the active laser group on the primary and clinician-rated secondary outcome measures (HAM-D (mean 9.28 (SD 6.55) vs. mean 14.14 (SD 4.78 p<0.001); QIDS-CL (mean 8.12 (SD 6.61 versus 12.68 (mean SD 3.77)) p<0.001). The self-report QIDS-SR scores improved in both groups but did not differ significantly between the groups. In the active laser group, QIDS-SR scores remained significantly lower than baseline at 3 months follow-up. Response rates (active laser, placebo laser) on ITT (intention to treat) analyses were 72.0% and 18.2% (p<0.001), respectively. Remission rates on ITT analyses (active laser, placebo laser) were 56.0% and 4.5% (p<0.001). Transient fatigue was the only adverse effect reported.
Limitations: There was no follow-up for the placebo group at one and 3 months.
Conclusion: Laser acupuncture showed a clinically and statistically significant benefit with reducing symptoms of depression on objective measures.
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