Acupuncture may help lower high blood pressure

THE QUESTION Blood-pressure-lowering drugs and a healthy lifestyle — good diet, exercise, an appropriate weight and stress management — are the go-to treatments for hypertension. Might acupuncture be a valid option, too?

THIS STUDY involved 65 people, most in their mid- to late 50s, who had mild to moderate hypertension but no other cardiovascular issues and were not taking blood pressure medication. All participants were given 30-minute treatments once a week with electroacupuncture, which uses low-intensity electrical current to stimulateacupuncture needles.

By random assignment, about half received treatment at specific acupuncture points on the wrists and just below the knee, and the others got electroacupuncture at other places on the body — essentially, fake treatment. After eight weeks, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) dropped by an average of 8 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) fell, on average, by 4 mmHg among those who had gotten true acupuncture treatment. The effect lasted for at least a month after treatment stopped.

Those found to be most responsive to the treatment had an average drop of 16 points in their systolic blood pressure. Essentially no changes in blood pressure were noted in the group that had received the fake treatment. No complications or adverse effects were reported.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with hypertension. About a third of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure and another third have pre-hypertension, meaning their blood pressure is higher than normal but not high enough for them to be considered hypertensive. Of those with diagnosed hypertension, only half have it under control. Blood pressure readings of 119/79 or lower are considered normal; 140/90 or higher is considered hypertension.

CAVEATS Long-term treatment with acupuncture was not tested. The study also did not determine whether the reductions achieved were enough to affect people’s risk for such cardiovascular problems as heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

FIND THIS STUDY August issue of Medical Acupuncture (www.liebertpub.com/overview/medical-acupuncture/233; click “Read Online”).

LEARN MORE ABOUT hypertension at nhlbi.nih.gov/health (click “A to Z Index” and select “hypertension”) and www.familydoctor.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.