A new treatment for depression that involves stimulating the brain with a weak electrical current is a safe and effective alternative to drugs that researchers Australian researchers said may have other benefits for the body and mind.
A new study of so-called “transcranial direct current stimulation,” published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has found about half of the depressed participants treated experienced substantial improvements.
The study – carried out by medical researchers from the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute in Sydney – was deemed the largest and most definitive study of the technique.
"We are excited about these results,” said researcher Colleen Loo. “This is the largest [study] ever undertaken and, while the results need to be replicated, they confirm previous reports of significant antidepressant effects."
The therapy involves passing a weak electrical current into the front of the brain through electrodes placed on the scalp. Patients remain awake and alert during the procedure.
For the new study, investigators tracked 64 depressed patients given the new therapy – for 20 minutes a day for six weeks -- after trying other treatments that did not work for them.
Researchers found significant benefits after three weeks, and even greater effects after six. About 85 percent still experienced a beneft after three months.
"These results demonstrate that multiple [treatment] sessions are safe and not associated with any adverse cognitive outcomes over time," Loo said. She also noted the study turned up additional unexpected physical and mental benefits, including improved attention and information processing.