Americans are in trouble. Obesity rates continue to skyrocket, and with rising obesity comes increasing reports of diabetes and hypertension among adults and, more frighteningly, children. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements pressuring us to try the latest high blood pressure medication – on billboards, in magazines, and on television. These padded ad budgets and pharmaceutical products are flourishing for a reason. America has a high blood pressure problem.

According to the Center for Disease Control, about one out of every three U.S. adults has hypertension, meaning 31.3% of all U.S. adults are at a greatly increased risk of suffering from heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causing of death in the United States. The ramifications of high blood pressure are many: According to a recent study, hypertension cost the U.S. economy $76.6 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work in 2010. High blood pressure, or hypertension, has no specific symptoms in and of itself. However, in addition to heart disease and stroke, long-term high blood pressure suffers are at increased risk of kidney disease and permanent blood vessel damage among many other serious conditions. Although medication and a change in diet and lifestyle are the standard recommendations to treat high blood pressure, there is an unsung hero in the struggle to lower blood pressure – acupuncture.

Acupuncture, a more than three thousand year old Chinese medical treatment used for innumerable maladies, has gained widespread popularity and credibility within the Western culture in recent years. From infertility to chronic conditions, more and more Americans are turning to acupuncture as a viable alternative and supplement to Western medicine. More specifically, in recent studies the use of acupuncture has shown to be an effective treatment in the fight against high blood pressure.
In a 2007 German study, regarded as the first to test acupuncture treatments against a placebo needle therapy, researches administered acupuncture and the placebo treatment to 160 hypertension (or high blood pressure) patients over the course of six weeks. At the end of treatment, blood pressure levels were significantly reduced in the acupuncture treated group. Of additional significance, the change in blood pressure levels between the acupuncture treated group and the placebo treated group were vast, as the placebo group saw little to no meaningful change in blood pressure levels. However, three to six months after the study, blood pressure readings returned to pre-study levels in the acupuncture treated group, leading researchers to conclude that regular ongoing acupuncture treatments were required to maintain healthy blood pressure numbers in hypertensive patients.

John C. Longhurst, MD, PHD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine, began a four part research trial into acupuncture’s effects on animals after visiting China and meeting with renowned scientists well-versed in the ancient medicinal art. In acupuncture, the physical body is mapped out into meridians, a series of invisible pathways which correspond to internal structures and bodily operations like the heart and blood flow. "They are located over major [nerve] pathways that are accessed when you put a needle in," says Dr. Longhurst. Acupuncture practitioners use these very thin needles to stimulate the pathways, sending impulses to the brain, thus activating different areas.

In Dr. Longhurst’s study, researchers used cats with heart disease, a possible end result of high blood pressure, to test acupuncture’s effectiveness. By stimulating the acupuncture point associated with adrenaline while at the same time administering high doses of adrenaline, researchers found that blood pressure levels remained low and steady in the cat test subjects. Ordinarily, high doses of adrenaline would cause blood pressure levels to skyrocket. To Dr. Longhurst and his team, this study shows concrete evidence of acupuncture’s usefulness in treating hypertension. Dr. Longhurst will be using human test subjects in the final phase of his acupuncture trial and hopes to show more conclusively that acupuncture is a legitimate medical tool in the fight against high blood pressure.

While more scientific evidence seems to be on the horizon, many acupuncture devotees are already reaping the benefits to treat their hypertension. As recommended, regular treatments in conjunction with any ongoing medical care can help reduce blood pressure levels in non-invasive and frankly pleasurable and relaxing 30-minute increments.

Author's Bio: 

About the author
Sharon Sherman, M.S.O.M., D.OM., L.OM., is the founder of Empirical Point, a full-service Oriental Medicine and acupuncture practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Sherman has been a licensed practitioner since 2001 and provides Philadelphia acupuncture treatment to address a broad range of conditions with a clinical specialty in chronic pain management. Her approach to working with clients is educational and collaborative - she helps patients create awareness about their current habits and how changing their lifestyle, integrating customized Oriental medicine, acupuncture and herbal therapeutics and limiting unhealthy activities can have a lifelong impact on their health.

Ms. Sherman resides just outside of Philadelphia and practices at two locations in the city - Center City and Chestnut Hill. The Empirical Point website provides more in-depth information about the benefits of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, including a blog about healthy living topics. You can also follow her on Twitter at @EmpiricalPoint.