Acupuncture for Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common problem as we age. There have been three systematic reviews on the scientific evidence base for acupuncture (2 for acupuncture and one for moxibustion). All concluded that there were too few trials, and that the existing trials were not of high enough quality and had had results that were too mixed, to be able to draw any firm conclusions about the effects of acupuncture on hypertension.
Randomised controlled trials published since these reviews suggest that acupuncture could be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension, although all have been small or very small studies. One found that acupuncture was more effective than the antihypertensive drug valsartan. Two found that acupuncture reduced blood pressure, probably by its effects on vascular endothelial dysfunction. Another two looked at electroacupuncture, and one found it to have long-term antihypertensive effects, while the other found that it reduced systolic but not diastolic blood pressure. Finally, one trial found that TCM-based acupuncture reduced 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure .
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically help to lower blood pressure by:
- Regulating endothelium-derived vasoconstrictors (endothelin-1) and vasodilators (calcitonin gene-related peptide, nitric oxide and nitric oxide synthase).
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry;
- Increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties;
- Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.
For full details, including the research references, The British Acupuncture Council has a fact sheet on acupuncture for hypertension, click here to see it.