Acupuncture beats pharmacotherapy for anxiety and depression

Background: Patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders also often have emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. The main drugs used for the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disordersmainly target single gastrointestinal symptoms and are not effective in regulating emotional symptoms.

Evidence has shown that acupuncture can relieve gastrointestinal symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorderspatients, but there is no high-quality evidence to show that acupuncture can relieve psychological symptoms in these patients.

Objectives: To systematically evaluate the clinical efficacy and safety of acupuncture for emotional symptoms in patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Methods: Randomized controlled trials published from database inception through July 31, 2021, were retrieved from three English-language databases (PubMed, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Embase) and five Chinese-language databases (the China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Wanfang, VIP, Chinese Biomedical, and traditional Chinese medicine Literature Analysis and Retrieval databases).

Randomized controlled trials that compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture and pharmacotherapy were included in this study. The score on the depression or anxiety scale after treatment were considered as primary outcomes. The ‘meta’ package (version 4.19-0) in RStudio 1.1.463 was used to analyse the data.

Results: A total of 2151 patients from 24 randomized controlled trials were included in this study. Compared with sham acupuncture, acupuncture was not significantly better at relieving anxiety (standardized mean difference [SMD] -0.35, 95% CI -1.05 to 0.33) and depression (SMD -0.32, 95% CI -0.71 to 0.07) symptoms. Compared with pharmacotherapy, acupuncture was significantly better at relieving anxiety (SMD -0.64, 95% CI -0.93 to -0.35) and depression (SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.69 to -0.22) symptoms.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis found that acupuncture can alleviate emotional symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders patients better than pharmacotherapy. However, it is not clear whether this effect is based on the placebo effect, specific effect or nonspecific effect of acupuncture. The evidence should be proven by rigorously designed randomized controlled trials in the future.


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About Attilio

Doctor of Chinese medicine, acupuncture expert and author of My Fertility Guide and My Pregnancy Guide.

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