Lower Your Blood Pressure With Acupuncture

By: John McKenzie

By his own account, Dr. Randal Zusman, Director of blood-pressure medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, is a pill pusher. "I am very aggressive in the treatment of high blood pressure using drugs, using pills," he says.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Middle-aged Americans face a staggering 90 percent chance of developing the condition, according to a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But the drugs used to treat it must be taken daily, usually for a lifetime. And they may have side effects, such as fatigue, depression and dizziness.

So Zusman is looking for alternatives for relieving hypertension. He thinks he may have found one in the ancient Chinese technique of acupuncture.

"There is an extensive literature from Asian and Russian communities that acupuncture does indeed lower blood pressure," he says.

American researchers have already shown that special acupuncture needles, when gently inserted into specific points on the skin, can stimulate nerves that reach up into the brain and to cells in the brain that control blood pressure.

"There's evidence from our laboratory and many other laboratories to suggest that the cells quiet down after acupuncture," says Dr. John Longhurst professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine.

When those cells "quiet down," or become less active, blood vessels relax.

Clinical Trials Continue

Now, in the most rigorous study of its kind, patients with high blood pressure — 140 (systolic) over 90 (diastolic) or higher — are being given a series of 12 acupuncture treatments.

The study is not yet complete, but Zusman is already enthusiastic.

"A substantial number of our patients have responded with significant reductions in blood pressure," he says.

Patients like Rip Reeves are also impressed: "In my late 30s, I was probably 145/95; with medication, I got it down to 130/80. And since I've been on acupuncture and not taking medication, I've been averaging 125/75."

Perhaps most amazing, acupuncture's benefit can be long lasting. Some patients who received the acupuncture treatment nine months ago still have normal blood pressure.

"The implication," says Zusman, "is that 12 acupuncture treatments over a six-week period will produce a cure."

In this case, the doctors defined "cure" as maintaining normal blood pressure for one year without medication. And that, for some patients, may now be within their reach.

Supplementing Cancer Treatments with Traditional Chinese Medicine

It seems inevitable that each week I hear of a new cancer diagnosis, from a friend, patient or acquaintance.  What is going on?  Does everyone get some type of cancer just because they are aging?  Cancer seems to have morphed into more a chronic disease today rather than an automatic death sentence, but too many people are catching this bug. Thankfully, we have a plethora of alternative choices to accompany Western medical treatments.   Acupuncture is quickly becoming one of the most readily accepted complementary therapies to relieve the side-effects of very toxic treatments and build back our natural immune systems.

An interesting  survey done on Hong Kong cancer patients studied how they combined Traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM) with the Western treatment they were undergoing. A colleague of mine Jennifer Dubowsky, L.Ac. had this to say about the study.

Data was collected from almost 800 cancer patients in Hong Kong. Of those, 42.9% used Western medicine practices for cancer treatment exclusively. The remaining 57.1% used at least one form of Chinese Medicine and 5 patients used TCM  exclusively. Interestingly, many of the cancer patients did not tell their doctors that they were using TCM along with the Western treatments. The Chinese patients were not comfortable talking about their preferences, at least with their doctors who are practicing Western medicine. 

 Some of my patients have experienced the same discomfort talking to their Western medical doctors about alternative treatments, but they are becoming fewer and fewer. Today, more physicians are knowledgeable about TCM, many are comfortable and some are actively curious. I believe that patients have led this change and am happy to see us move toward a more integrative approach to health care.

For more information on how Acupuncture can be helpful while undergoing radiation, chemotherapy and other Western treatments check out this post at the NIH  (National Institute of Health – Cancer Institute.