October 2007

Acupuncture and Alternative Therapies for High Blood Pressure

By Elliot Wagner, O.M.D., L.Ac., Doctor of Oriental Medicine

This column discusses a simple acupuncture technique I use in my clinic to reduce high blood pressure levels. If you have high blood pressure, acupuncture and other alternative medicines and lifestyle changes can have a marked effect on these levels. If you are currently on hypertensive medication, please include your doctor in any plans to add alternative strategies to lower your blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke, diabetes, kidney failure; and, most significantly, heart disease, the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States. In fact, according to UpToDate.com, a subscription internet website for physicians, hypertension is, "quantitatively the major risk factor for premature cardiovascular disease, being more common than cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, and diabetes, the other major risk factors."

More than 50 million Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension), but among the more than 25 million who take antihypertensive medications, only about 45% actually get their blood pressure down to acceptable levels

If you are one of those people or, if you take antihypertensive medication and would like to lower your dose or try to responsibly get off it altogether, I have good news for you. More and more, as studies of alternative methods for lowering blood pressure find their way into the medical literature, people are learning that there are other methods to treat hypertension that don't carry the serious risks of medications. In the above-mentioned website, the same authors remind their physician colleagues that "treatment of hypertension generally begins with nonpharmacologic therapy, including moderate dietary sodium restriction, weight reduction in the obese, and regular aerobic exercise. ...Drug therapy, in comparison, may be expensive and is often associated with side effects, some of which ...may actually increase coronary risk. Thus, there should be clear evidence of likely benefit before antihypertensive drugs are begun."

In other words, traditional medicine recommends that before you take medication try natural methods first! Here are some suggestions for alternative approaches to treating hypertension:

Vitamin C. Yes, vitamin C, again! In a study reported in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, systolic blood pressure levels fell by 9.1% after one month in hypertensive subjects who consumed 500 mg. of vitamin C daily. A 9% drop is nothing to sneeze at. If, for example, your blood pressure is 170mm Hg, such a drop would bring it to 155. Higher intake levels may bring about further drops in blood pressure.

In a European study subjects with high blood pressure were given 600 milligrams of concentrated garlic each day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, scientists found that blood pressure levels had dropped, along with cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number on a blood pressure reading and the one most likely to indicate cardiovascular stress — decreased an average of 11 percent. (Because it is more difficult to effect changes in diastolic pressure, this is even more dramatic than the systolic drop prompted by vitamin C. A diastolic drop of 11% could mean a shift from a borderline hypertensive reading of 88 mm Hg down to a normal level of 78).

In my clinic we use an acupuncture treatment that consistently lowers blood pressure in people with moderate hypertension. One 62-year-old patient managed on hypertensive medication, whose blood pressure persisted for years at the the 160-170 level, now finds that his readings stay in the 130-140 range. An active 80-year-old patient found her blood pressure reduced from regular systolic readings in the high 160's to consistent readings in the high 130's, a level she says she can live with. These readings are accomplished with tiny magnets placed on acupuncture points on the back of the ear. Though they have a powerful effect on the autonomic nervous system, there are no side effects from these treatments. They are completely painless, unnoticed by the patient, and invisible.