Researchers at the University of York, found that the combination of acupuncture or counseling with usual care benefited patients who had been suffering form recurrent depression after three months of treatment.
Scientists who learned about the study have complained that there is not enough evidence to liken the two non-drug therapies to improvements.
Lead author Dr Hugh MacPherson said in a statement: "Although these findings are encouraging, our study does not identify which aspects of acupuncture and counseling are likely to be most beneficial to patients, nor does it provide information about the effectiveness of acupuncture or counseling, compared with usual care, for patients with mild depression."
During the trial, patients with depression were randomly assigned to receive either 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture plus usual care (302 patients), or 12 weekly sessions of counseling plus usual care (302 patients), or usual care alone (151 patients).
Results showed that groups that received acupuncture and counseling showed a significant reduction in average depression scores at three months, compared to the group that received usual care alone.
There was no significant difference in the scores between the group that received acupuncture, and the group that received counseling.
While testing at 9 and 12 months there was no longer a difference between the scores in either of the three groups.
"To our knowledge, our study is the first to rigorously evaluate the clinical and economic impact of acupuncture and counseling for patients in primary care who are representative of those who continue to experience depression in primary care," MacPherson said.
"We have provided evidence that acupuncture versus usual care and counseling versus usual care are both associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of depression in the short to medium term, and are not associated with serious adverse events. "
The study was published this week in PLOS Medicine.