A new double blind study has found that transcranial magnetic stimulation could be helpful for some people suffering with major depression and who have not responded to other forms of treatment and drugs.
The research, which was conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, opens the doors for magnetic therapy to be used as an effective treatment for depression in the future.
The study involved almost 200 people, each of whom was required to wear a special type of helmet with electrodes attached to the scalp. You can imagine that it wouldn’t be easy to set up a double blind study like this as the equipment creates a sort of head tapping sensation in the recipients when the magnetic pulses are being administered.
So the researchers got round this by having everyone in the trial wear a similar type of helmet and everyone involved felt the same tingling sensation but in just over half of the participants the magnet was actually blocked off so that the magnetic field could not reach them but they were still able to feel the electrical impulse.
In those that were receiving the magnetic pulses, these pulses passed through their skull and created an electrical current in the brain. Transcranial magnetic therapy was administered to just under half of those taking part for around 37 minutes a day over a three week period. Prior to that, all participants had been taken off their medication for a couple of weeks.
A total of 14 percent of those who were receiving the magnetic therapy reported a reduction in depression symptoms compared to only 5 percent of those who were receiving the sham treatment.
“The results of this study suggest that prefrontal repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a monotherapy with few adverse effects and significant antidepressant effects for unipolar depressed patients who do not respond to medications or who cannot tolerate them,” said Dr Mark George, who led the study.
Transcranial magnetic therapy is considered to be safe, unlike other methods using electrical currents, such as electroconvulsive therapy, which has some unpleasant side effects.
Apparently those that received the magnetic therapy felt the benefits for several months after the treatment stopped.
This study was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, and the findings were published in the May 2010 edition of Archives of General Psychiatry.