Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practiced for more than 2,000 years, has been shown to improve blood flow and heart health.
Often used to treat pain – and that's everything from migraine headaches to chronic heel pain – the practice of inserting tiny needles under the skin to stimulate nerves and muscles has also been shown to improve blood flow in a variety of organs.
In 2012, Prevention magazine called acupuncture
the "newest weapon in the fight against high blood pressure," an ironic statement considering how long acupuncture has been a standard treatment in China. But plenty of research in the past few decades has pointed to positive effects from this therapy that was once considered too "out there" for most Westerners.
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Prevention pointed out that research has found that weekly acupuncture treatments can drop systolic blood pressure by up to 20 points, a result equivalent to some of the medications given for high blood pressure. Cardiologist Dr. John Longhurst said stimulating acupuncture points released neurotransmitters that affected areas of the brain that regulate the cardiovascular system.
Another study at Peking University Shenzhen Hospital
found that needling two acupuncture points improved blood flow in patients with coronary artery disease, the Healthcare Medicine Institute reported.
CHD is caused by plaque build-up on artery walls, which can narrow the arteries and lead to restricted blood flow. HMI said the researchers found that both groups of patients tested, one using acupuncture and the other given nitroglycerine tablets, showed improved blood flow in specific heart areas.
A 2001 study at UCLA, highlighted on WebMD, found that acupuncture
showed benefits for even the sickest of heart failure patients. In looking at patients in severe heart failure, which for most people means their heart can't pump enough blood through their bodies to maintain health, researchers found that while blood pressure and heart rate were unaffected by acupuncture, the sympathetic nerve activation was significantly reduced. That's important for cardiac patients.
"Advanced heart failure patients often have two or three times more sympathetic nerve activity than normal individuals," study leader Holly R. Middlekauff, MD, was quoted by WebMD from a news release. "It has been shown that the greater this activity is, the worse the outlook for the patient, so reducing it could be crucial."
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Although limited studies have shown positive effects of acupuncture, some in science still believe the treatment isn't effective and should be used with caution. In 2011, researchers took on the task of looking through published acupuncture studies to try to make sense of the oftentimes contradictory results, Science-Based Medicine reported
The result was a report that the usefulness of acupuncture is questionable, and the researchers also raised questions about whether it is actually a harmless procedure, SBM said.
Consult with your physician before seeking any alternative medical treatments.
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