Almost 80 million adult Americans suffer from high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Additional information from the 2007 – 2010 (NHANES) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reveals that a little less than 50% of these people do not have their high blood pressure under control. Someone is considered to have high blood pressure if he/she has a blood pressure of 140 systolic and 90 diastolic or above. Compared to women, men are more prone to high blood pressure (HBP) up to 45 years old. But beyond this age and up to 64 years, both tend to have similar rates of HBP. When women go beyond 64 years of age, their likelihood for HBP becomes higher than men. In terms of ethnicity, blacks that are non-Hispanic have the highest percentage of HBP in the States with 30.8% for women and 42.7 for men. Whites that are non-Hispanic have 33.5% for women and 30.8% for men, while Mexican-Americans have 30.1% for women and 28.8% for the men. One report revealed that a third of American adults have higher than normal blood pressure ranges that are still not deemed to be in the hypertension (pre-hypertensive).
How Does High Blood Pressure Develop?
Several factors can lead to the rise in blood pressure. Some of these include:
– Genetic predisposition
– Drug abuse (amphetamine, cocaine
– Prescription drugs: (steroids for asthma, painkillers, hormone therapy; birth controls pills)
– Thyroid disease
– Kidney disease
Risk factors include:
– Poor nutrition
– Little or no physical activity
Addressing the Underlying Cause: How Western Doctors Evaluate Hypertension Cases
Besides the most obvious evaluation, blood pressure reading, medical doctors have the blood work of their patients done as well as perform an ASI test (adrenal stress index test). This test analyzes DHEA and cortisone levels. DHEA and cortisone are hormones that originate form the adrenal glands as these glands react to what is known as a “fight or flight response,” or stress response, for short. The adrenal glands react easily to any endocrine system imbalances, especially changes in the thyroid gland. Those tests enable the doctor to consider every possible factor that can lead to the rise of hypertension or HBP, a lot of which often arises but are often overlooked and can be prevented. The physician will consider some of the factors that may be contributing to HBP, when making an assessment. These factors include:
– Blood flow issues (such as micro-blood stasis)
– Immune and inflammatory deficiencies
– Metabolic acidosis
– Metabolic syndrome
– Food allergies
– Cortisol resistance and elevation
How Does Acupuncture Normalize Blood Pressure?
The neuroendocrine system is mainly made up of the adrenals/thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus. Acupuncture can regulate blood pressure by exploiting this system as well as the intricate working relationship it has with the nervous system. The process of metabolism and hormone regulation is regulated by the endocrine system. The ANS or autonomic nervous system has two branches: one branch is the parasympathetic branch (digest and rest). It normalizes body processes such as breathing and blood pressure. The second branch is the sympathetic system (fight or flight). It contributes to the regulation of the blood volume and the vascular tone of the heart. The CNS or central nervous system has a network that consists of the spinal cord and the brain functioning as a two-way communication system. This system processes all external stimuli and all information from the body. The nervous system collects all these Information which is sent to spinal cord then to the brain. The brain then sends out signals to the body via the same mechanism.
An ever-growing volume of research has been accumulated showing acupuncture’s normalizing/regulatory effect on the endocrine system, and the way this treatment can help bring back hormone level balance. This research includes studies on reproductive hormones, corticosteroids, and thyroid hormones. New and wide array of studies have also validated acupuncture’s effects on the ANS (autonomic nervous system) specifically on ANS issues such as epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), insomnia, and anxiety. Over the last ten years, due to advancements in imaging technologies there has been a rise in neuroimaging studies pertaining to acupuncture’s effects on the centers of the brain. One noted study showed that electro-acupuncture can help stimulate certain parts of the brain generating a hypotensive effect through the central nervous system.
New studies have shown that an overactive SNS (sympathetic nervous system) is one of the major contributors to HBP. The SNS can result in the vasoconstriction of the arteries in the heart when the SNS becomes dominant or over-stimulated, which then induces a state of hypertension. Very recent studies reveal that one of the mechanisms by which blood pressure is reduced with acupuncture is by down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system. One of these studies discovered that neurons in the brain can be activated with electro-acupuncture which slows down neurons in the brain activity by activating the nociceptin and opioid system (enkephalins, endorphins). The baroreflex control system, which is a feedback loop between the PNS, SNS, CNS, spinal cord, brain, and heart, brain can be modulated by endogenous opioids. When the PNS is stimulated, this feedback loop inhibits sympathetic nerve activity, and therefore reduces blood pressure.
Other studies demonstrate that acupuncture can be superior to a commonly prescribed angiotensin known as Captopril due to the fact that acupuncture has the ability to convert ACE – inhibitor (enzyme inhibitor) for high blood pressure. One such study concluded that electro-acupuncture was substantially much better than Captopril in controlling blood pressure when researchers compared electro-acupuncture to the Western drug. A study conducted in Germany comparing antihypertensive medications to real acupuncture concluded that with acupuncture, the lowering of blood pressure is comparable to monotherapies with ACE – inhibitors.
Acupuncture Points and Nerves
Acupuncturists choose a specific combination of acupuncture points when treating hypertension. These acupoints differ from person to person. They are selected based on the underlying causes and specific clinical presentation of hypertension. Acupuncturists can have several options to choose from; they can select points on the ears, distal points on the extremities, or points on either the back or front side of the body. Some points that are organ-specific or back acupoints known as as Shu, can be chosen for treatment. Organ-specific points can include Heart-related points like the Hsinshu (Bl 15) and Jueyinshu (Bl 14). These two acupoints are specific for the heart and pericardium respectively. This may seem like a coincidence but it’s not actually since they are found in at the level of T4 and T5 spinal vertebrae in the upper region of the thoracic system. They innervate the heart through the sympathetic nerves. Their TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) functions are listed below.
Hsinshu – BL15
– Clears Heart fire
– Resolves blood stasis and unbinds the chest
– Calms the SNS (spirit)
– Normalizes Heart Qi
– Nourishes and tonifies the Heart
Jueyinshu – BL 14
– Descends and normalizes Qi
– Unbinds the chest
– Normalizes the heart
Being a dynamic system of medicine, Eastern medicine includes various forms of therapies that the practitioner can choose from. Because of this, blood pressure treatment protocols can differ from TCM practitioner to another depending on the perspective and style of the practitioner and on the presentation of the disease. Herbal medicine, in general, takes priority in most plans of treatment with acupuncture serving as an adjunct to it. The reason is because the patient can continue herbal treatment as home and the herbs work at a deeper level while acupuncture works at a more superficial level. But when combined these two therapies becomes a powerful l strategy that targets the underlying cause and the signs and symptoms of the disease.
No matter what the cause of your HBP is, for any treatment to be really effective, a great effort is required of the patient to make changes in his/her lifestyle that will bring about a healthy heart. This includes:
– Quality sleep
– -Meditation, yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi, and other light exercises
– Physical exercise recommended by your doctor/ acupuncturist
– Nutrition and diet changes