Acupuncture for high blood pressure: How does it work?
For nearly 3,000 years, acupuncture has been used to treat many health issues. This practice involves inserting very thin, flexible needles into specific acupuncture points on the body, which stimulates the body’s natural healing processes. In addition, modern acupuncture techniques may include electroacupuncture, which involves applying an electric current through acupuncture needles.
Blood pressure and hypertension
Blood pressure (BP) refers to the force that blood exerts on arterial walls during circulation. It is determined by the contraction of the heart muscle and is measured by systolic pressure (during the contraction of the heart) and diastolic pressure (during the relaxation of the heart). Normally, blood pressure is indicated by the systolic pressure preceding the diastolic pressure, such as 120/80 which is considered normal.
Systolic blood pressure represents the maximum pressure exerted during a heartbeat when blood is pumped from the heart into the arteries of the body. On the other hand, diastolic blood pressure is the lowest pressure recorded between heartbeats when the heart is filling with blood.
Blood pressure can rise temporarily during exercise or stress, but when it remains continually high, even at rest, it can damage arteries. Stage 1 hypertension is characterized by a systolic reading of 130-139 or a diastolic reading of 80-89. A reading of 140/90 or higher is classified as stage 2 hypertension. Hypertensive crisis is indicated by a systolic rate over 180 or a diastolic rate over 120.
High blood pressure can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, memory loss, and cognitive decline.
How does acupuncture help regulate blood pressure?
While the exact mechanisms of how acupuncture works are not yet fully understood from a scientific perspective, it is believed that stimulating specific points on the body can have an effect on the central nervous system, affecting blood flow and the production of key hormones.
In regards to high blood pressure, acupuncture may help regulate blood pressure by affecting hormones involved in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). This system is responsible for maintaining blood pressure levels and fluid-electrolyte balance.
In particular, acupuncture may affect the presence of RAAS-related hormones and enzymes in the bloodstream and stimulate receptors in the body that regulate blood pressure.
Moreover, acupuncture can act on the limbic system, resulting in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain’s reward system. According to a recent study, dopamine has the ability to reduce oxidative stress, which is characterized by an abundance of free radicals, thus helping to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
What do the studies suggest?
A recent study conducted at the University of California-Irvine (UCI) provided the first scientific confirmation of the benefits of an ancient Chinese medicinal technique for patients with mild to moderate hypertension. The research, published in the Medical Acupuncture Journal, revealed that electroacupuncture, a type of acupuncture that uses low-intensity electrical pulses through needles inserted at specific points on the body, can lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients for up to to six weeks. According to the researchers, these findings indicate that regular use of electric acupuncture can help individuals control their blood pressure, which may reduce the long-term risk of heart disease and stroke.
In a 2007 clinical study published in the journal Circulation, it was suggested that acupuncture, performed to the exact specifications of ancient Chinese traditions, could be an effective treatment for mild hypertension, with some individuals experiencing results similar to those achieved with treatment with a drug. Single or aggressive lifestyle changes such as exercise and salt restriction. Additionally, a 2019 review concluded that a combination of acupuncture and Western medicine methods can be more effective in improving high blood pressure than Western medicine alone.
Research indicates that acupuncture may provide temporary relief for individuals with high blood pressure. The combination of acupuncture and standard blood pressure medications may have a greater effect in lowering blood pressure than medication alone. It is generally safe to use acupuncture along with most blood pressure medications. However, it is critical to seek treatment from a licensed, board-certified acupuncturist to ensure safe and effective treatment.
(Dr. J. Prakash, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jindal NatureCure Institute, Bengaluru)
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