Acupuncture May Help Pregnant Women With Depression, Says University of Texas at Austin Pharmacy Researcher

Acupuncture may hold promise for depression in pregnant women, a new study, co-authored by a University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy researcher, shows.

The findings, published in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, show that 12 acupuncture treatments over eight weeks might help reduce the severity of depression symptoms.

"The protocol we have tested was effective, indicating that acupuncture may be a viable alternative to treat depression during pregnancy," said Dr. Rosa Schnyer, clinical assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, whose research has focused on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for major depression in women, and who was one of the leading investigators in the study.

The study on depression and pregnant women, led by researchers at Stanford University, followed 150 pregnant women with major depression. Researchers found women who received depression-specific acupuncture were more likely to have a treatment response--meaning the severity of their symptoms fell by at least half and they no longer met all of the criteria for diagnosing major depression.

It's estimated that 3 to 5 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with depression. Although, antidepressant medications are one treatment option, there are safety concerns.

Because of the potential for harm from medications, many pregnant women with depression may prefer psychotherapy or other non-drug options.

Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. Modern research has most often focused on the effects of acupuncture on painful conditions, like chronic back pain and migraines. Researchers speculate it may help ease pain by altering signals among nerve cells or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system.

The exact mechanism by which acupuncture works is not well understood, however, interactions between acupuncture and the neurotransmitter system have been demonstrated.