Acupuncture is being integrated into Western medicine, particularly for treatment of pain, nausea, asthma, and neurological conditions.1 Although the exact mechanism of action for acupuncture is unknown, it is associated with an increase in the level of neurobiologically active substances, such as endorphins and enkephalins.2 There are also data indicating that acupuncture induces the release of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.3-5
Acupuncture is well tolerated compared with tricyclic antidepressant medications.6-9 Adverse effects are mild and transient and include tiredness, drowsiness, exacerbation of primary symptoms, and itching in the area of acupuncture.10 Complications such as pneumothorax, infection, cardiac conditions, and spinal cord injury are extremely rare.10
The number of studies of Western acupuncture in the treatment of depression and conditions associated with depression is limited.10 Even fewer reports provide objective data to support efficacy (eg, neurotransmitter) level change, imaging studies, and electroencephalographic alterations. Only 7 randomized comparative studies have been published, even though the first attempts to compare acupuncture with conventional treatments for depression began in the 1970s.
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