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Can Acupuncture Reduce Blood Pressure?

As effective as single-drug therapy, but practicality an issue

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Updated June 26, 2014

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Acupuncture

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A study published a few years ago in Circulation showed that acupuncture - when performed to the precise specifications of ancient Chinese tradition - was roughly as effective as single drug therapy in reducing blood pressure.

In this study, 160 patients in Germany and China with mild to moderate hypertension were randomized to receive either acupuncture (performed by Chinese physicians accredited in acupuncture) or a sham procedure. The sham procedure consisted of identical acupuncture sessions, complete with needle insertions - but the insertion points were not the precise sites prescribed by traditional Chinese medicine for treating blood pressure. Both groups of patients underwent 22 sessions of 30 minutes each over a period of six weeks.

At the end of that time, the systolic and diastolic blood pressures in patients receiving traditional Chinese acupuncture were significantly reduced (by approximately 5 mm Hg and 3 mm Hg, respectively). Unfortunately, when acupuncture was discontinued their blood pressures returned to baseline values within three months. This level of blood pressure reduction is roughly the same as would typically occur with single-drug therapy or with aggressive lifestyle changes (exercise and salt restriction).

Comment:

I am not as impressed by the fact that acupuncture works, as by the fact that, apparently, it only works if you use the precise insertion points as prescribed by ancient Chinese tradition, and also apply the correct angle and depth of needle insertion and use the correct needle manipulations at each insertion point. Anyone can find an acupuncturist, but how many of us can find one who is actually steeped in ancient Chinese tradition, and is fully trained to apply it?

So, while acupuncture may work in treating high blood pressure, to me this approach seems just a tad infeasible. Not only do you need to find a certified expert in traditional Chinese medicine, but you also need to find him/her three times a week, forever. Certainly, taking a pill every day - and even exercising for 20 minutes three times a week and watching your salt intake - seems to me to be somewhat more practical, for most people anyway.

Sources:

Flachskampf FA, Gallasch J, Gefeller O, et al. Randomized trial of acupuncture to lower blood pressure. Circulation 2007; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.661140.

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