People have known for centuries that acupuncture helps with a number of conditions, including high blood pressure and pain, and now advances in modern science can help explain exactly why this ancient Chinese treatment is so effective.
According to research carried out by the University of California Irvine's Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, regular electroacupuncture treatment boosts the release of an opioid in the brain stem. This particular opioid controls blood pressure, which explains why the treatment is so helpful in reducing hypertension.
Electroacupuncture entails sending pulsating electrical currents through acupuncture needles to stimulate acupoints. It does not require the super-precise needle placement that is so crucial to traditional acupuncture, because the electrical current can reach a wider area. While it offers a lot of the same benefits as traditional acupuncture, it seems to work particularly well on pain.
Rats that underwent electroacupuncture noted a drop in blood pressure that persisted for three days after the treatment. This came about as the result of a boost in the gene expression of one of the body's major opioid peptides known as enkephalins.
This is the first time that research has proven the molecular activity responsible for the hypertension-reducing effects of electroacupuncture. The landmark study was published in Scientific Reports.
Hypertension affects a third of the world's adults
In the U.S., more than $30 billion is spent each year unnecessarily to treat hypertension, which equates to more than 1 percent of the nation's annual healthcare costs. Many patients are being prescribed strong blood pressure medications despite only having mild hypertension, putting them at risk for a number of side effects, including digestive disorders, anxiety, kidney damage and cholesterol problems.
Untreated hypertension can cause serious problems, including heart and kidney damage, stroke, the buildup of fluid in the lungs, and vision loss, so alternative treatments could help make significant inroads in this major health problem. Lifestyle changes such as improving one's diet and getting more exercise should always be the first line of defense, and for many people, acupuncture could also make a big difference.
With hypertension affecting around a third of the world's adult population, this could lead to much better treatment than the current medication, which has a host of unpleasant side effects. The UCI team found that acupuncture at particular places on the wrist brings about the drop in blood pressure, illustrating its promise as a simple treatment for clinical hypertension.
Electroacupuncture also helps relieve stress, pain
The benefits of electroacupuncture don't stop at hypertension. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that the treatment can block the release of the body's stress hormones, helping to protect people from the impact of stress.
It has also been shown to reduce pain and the need for painkillers following operations like Cesarean sections. In a study published in the Chinese Medical Journal, researchers found that women who had been administered acupuncture or electroacupuncture for pain relief had significantly lower levels of pain than the placebo group in the two hours after surgery. They also asked for morphine 10 minutes later on average, and used about a third less of it in the first 24 hours following the surgery. As such, they also noted fewer opioid-related side effects.
Another study out of Duke University, meanwhile, found that acupuncture resulted in significantly lower levels of pain and painkiller use in patients post-surgery, regardless of whether it had been administered before the operation or afterward.
While some people claim that acupuncture's benefits come from a placebo effect, the research shows that changes do occur in the brain during electroacupuncture. This treatment, along with other ancient Chinese remedies like cupping therapy, is growing in popularity as people increasingly seek alternative treatments that do not have harmful side effects.
This article originally appeared on naturalnews.com