I came across this article in the Daily Mail today, whereby low energy lasers are used instead of needles in acupuncture to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Unlike conventional drug treatment, where patients may suffer side effects, there are none with this form of acupuncture. It's useful too where people have a needle phobia and there is no risk of infection as the skin is not punctured
Beam of light that can help banish black dog
But latest figures suggest only 50 to 65 per cent of patients who take the pills notice an improvement in symptoms.
And there is a risk of side-effects such as nausea, poor sleep, diarrhoea, constipation and erectile problems.
That’s the suggestion emerging from a small new Australian study, which found patients with depression reported fewer symptoms and better mood after 12 sessions of the treatment.
Laser acupuncture involves stimulating the pressure points targeted in traditional acupuncture, but using low-energy lasers rather than needles.
More than three million people in the UK use the ancient Chinese medicine as a treatment for everything from chronic pain to infertility.
It is also available on the NHS: under guidelines from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), acupuncture can be given for the treatment of lower back pain.
Western medicine is at a loss to explain the benefits of the needle therapy.
The most popular theory is that it stimulates the release of ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins, though there is only a small amount of evidence to back this up.
Using lasers could be safer and more popular than the conventional treatment, as they do not carry a risk of infection and are more acceptable to patients with a needle phobia.
To test the treatment, researchers at the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney recruited 47 men and women aged 18 to 50 with a history of depression.
Half were given the laser therapy twice a week for four weeks, then once a week for another four weeks.
The beam was powerful enough to stimulate acupuncture points on the back, neck and trunk but not to cause burns or damage the skin.
The rest of the group were given a ‘dummy’ laser, which shone a light on the skin but contained little or no laser energy.
The researchers, who were from the department of psychiatry at the universities, measured the response in terms of how much symptoms improved on a recognised depression register, the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.
The lower the score, the better a patient’s mental health.
The laser group average score dropped from 14.14 to 9.8, while the placebo group saw hardly any change.
The results, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Affective Disorders, showed those given the real laser therapy were still seeing the benefits three months later.
Professor Tony Cleare, a specialist in affective disorders at King’s College London, said some studies had shown a benefit from acupuncture but others had not.
He added: ‘There is little evidence that, in depression, acupuncture to specific areas of the body is any different from acupuncture in random areas.
'This suggests that if acupuncture is having an effect, it isn’t in the way that acupuncturists think.’
Beth Murphy, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, said: ‘We welcome news of any new therapies being developed for depression, especially those associated with fewer side-effects.’