Mechanism of Action Suggests Acupuncture's Clinical Viability

A study conducted by researchers from the UCI Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine reports that hypertension can be reduced through regular application of electroacupuncture treatment. The therapy appears to work by enhancing the release of a particular opioid class in the brainstem that is associated with blood pressure level. According to the authors, the work is the first to illuminate the molecular activity underlying the effect of electroacupuncture on hypertension. The findings are reported in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

In previous research, the team found that patients who received acupuncture at specific wrist locations recorded a drop in blood pressure. The present study, performed on rats with cold-induced hypertension, found that electroacupuncture (EA) increased the gene expression of enkephalins, one of 3 major opioid peptides in the body. The increase was associated with a reduction in blood pressure levels, an effect that lasted for 3 days posttreatment. The authors conclude that “…the current study demonstrates that repetitive EA attenuates hypertension by about 40% through a δ-opioid mechanism, occurring at least in part in the rVLM. Repetitive EA evokes a long-lasting response, suggesting that this therapy may be suitable for treating clinical hypertension.”

A news story about the findings, with link to the journal article, may be read here.

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