Auricular acupuncture is a promising treatment for depression

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A recent study spearheaded by researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP) and the University of Southern Santa Catarina (UNISUL) has brought new hope to individuals suffering from depression.

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study highlights the effectiveness and safety of auricular acupuncture as an alternative treatment for this debilitating mood disorder.

This comes at a time when depression rates are climbing, and many are seeking alternative treatments to traditional medication due to its cost and side effects.

Auricular acupuncture, a technique recognized by the World Health Organization and offered by Brazil’s national health service since 2006, involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the outer ear to stimulate the brain and other organs.

It’s a simple, cost-effective, and quick method, requiring minimal training for practitioners such as nurses and physical therapists to administer.

The study, conducted between March and July 2023, involved 74 patients with moderate to moderately severe depression, based on their scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ9).

These participants were divided into two groups: one received specific auricular acupuncture (SA) targeting depression-related points on the ear, while the other received non-specific treatment (NSA) at non-related points.

Over the course of 12 sessions in six weeks, the researchers observed significant improvements in the SA group, with 58% of patients experiencing at least a 50% reduction in their PHQ9 scores, indicating a substantial decrease in depression symptoms.

This was contrasted with 43% in the NSA group, a difference that, while not statistically significant, showed a clear trend towards the effectiveness of specific auricular acupuncture in treating depression.

Notably, the study reported no severe adverse effects from the treatment, with the majority of participants experiencing only mild pain at the needle application site.

This underscores the safety of auricular acupuncture, making it a viable option for those seeking alternatives to traditional antidepressant medications, which can have undesirable side effects and lead to dependency.

The study’s findings are particularly relevant in the context of the current global mental health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With an increasing number of people suffering from anxiety and depression, there’s a pressing need for effective, safe, and accessible treatment options.

Auricular acupuncture, with its low cost and ease of administration, presents a promising solution, especially in countries like Brazil, where it’s already integrated into the public health system.

The researchers, while acknowledging the study’s limitations and the need for further research, emphasize the potential of auricular acupuncture to complement existing treatments for depression.

Their work validates the use of this integrative practice within the SUS and offers hope to patients seeking non-pharmacological treatments for their mental health challenges.

As the world continues to grapple with the rise in mood disorders, the findings from this study offer a glimmer of hope and a potential path forward for millions affected by depression, highlighting the importance of exploring and validating alternative treatments in the fight against this global health issue.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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