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Acupuncture for back pain?

I have chronic low back pain. Would acupuncture treatments help?

Answer From Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

Many people who have chronic low back pain have found acupuncture to be helpful. But the scientific evidence to support these claims has been mixed, partly because it can be difficult to devise a good form of sham acupuncture for comparison.

Acupuncture for back pain involves inserting very thin needles to various depths into strategic points on your body. Scientific studies have indicated that sham acupuncture works just as well as real acupuncture for back pain. A key point, though, is that in several studies, both sham acupuncture and real acupuncture relieved low back pain better than having no treatment at all.

This could mean that sham acupuncture could be having an effect, or it could mean that the effects of acupuncture may be due in part to a placebo effect.

The research on acupuncture is growing, but interpreting it is still a challenge. For now, most studies seem to indicate that, for most people, acupuncture results in some beneficial effect with a low risk of side effects when provided by a well-trained practitioner.

So if other treatments haven’t helped your low back pain, it may be worth trying acupuncture. But if your back pain doesn’t begin to improve within 6 to 8 weeks, acupuncture may not be the right treatment for you.


3000 Year Old Thoughts on Digestion – Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine

“What foods should I eat?” For my patients both with and without digestive health issues, this is a common question. My answer is not that simple. Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) principles have me change my recommendations from person to person as well as from season to season. This is because, of course, we are not all the same and because external environments affect our bodies. So, there is no ONE perfect diet for all.
TCM is the second largest and the oldest continuously practiced professional medicine in the world, used by one-third of the global population. Before we can discuss the treatments of TCM for digestive health, we need to understand the basics of digestion from a TCM perspective.


Where does digestion start? In the mouth, of course. When you go for a TCM consultation, don’t be surprised when you are told to stick out your tongue. The tongue is the only internal organ that we, as TCM doctors, can ask to see. We certainly can’t ask you to pull out your liver or stomach! Observation of the colour of the tongue (should be pink), the coating on the tongue (should be thin and white), and the shape and size of the tongue reveal clues as to what is occurring in the body. If, for example, you have a swollen tongue with a thick coating on it, then perhaps some of the symptoms that you suffer from include bloating and borborygmus (a fancy name for rumbling tummy caused by intestinal gas). A TCM doctor would have you limit or avoid phlegm-producing foods like dairy, wheat, and even bananas. If your tongue is red, dry, and thin, your symptoms may include heartburn, constipation, or hemorrhoids, and a TCM doctor would advise you to avoid spicy foods.


Let’s follow the food down from the mouth to the stomach. TCM envisions the stomach as a cooking pot. When food reaches the “pot”, it is partly broken down by the “cooking” process. This is really not that far from the actual action of stomach acid continuing the digestive process that began in the mouth. Since a pot requires fire or heat to cook food, TCM recommends the avoidance of excess cold and raw foods, including ice, ice cream, and sushi (although remember that sushi is traditionally eaten with the warming foods ginger and wasabi). Instead, the emphasis is on lightly steamed vegetables, and during colder seasons, more soups and stews, for easier digestion.

If you do not have enough digestive fire, your metabolism may be too slow and symptoms may include bloating, undigested food in the stools, and pain that is improved by warmth. If you have too much digestive fire, you may suffer from heartburn, an insatiable appetite, or constipation. Because foods can have an innate warmth or coolness, you may want to eat foods appropriate to your constitution, as well as to the weather. For example, spicy foods are obviously heating, but too many or too hot can cause digestive irritation. More suitable warming foods include ginger, cinnamon, fennel, winter squash, sweet potato, kale, oats, spelt, and quinoa. If you have a tendency toward heat signs and symptoms (not necessarily just feeling hot), you could consider cooling foods like peppermint, dandelion greens, cilantro, apples, watermelons, citrus fruits, tofu, millet, barley, amaranth, lettuce, cucumber, and yogurt.


The next organ involved in TCM digestion is the spleen. The spleen and pancreas together are termed the spleen system. So, if you suffer from bloating, soft stool/diarrhea, undigested food in your stools, fatigue, and/or poor appetite, your TCM practitioner will likely tell you that you have spleen energy deficiency. One of the spleen’s jobs is to transform food and fluid into useful nutrients and to transport those nutrients to where they are needed in the body. Try including foods like squash, carrots, yams, well-cooked rice, ginger, and small amounts of honey or molasses in your diet, while limiting or excluding dairy, citrus, fried or heavy foods, and too much sugar.


The liver is involved in helping to cleanse the blood and detoxify the body. It also secretes bile which is stored in the gallbladder. Bile is required for the proper digestion of fats. TCM’s liver system does have these functions, so poor quality fat, intoxicants, chemicals, and denatured foods all cause problems for the liver. In addition, the TCM liver soothes and smoothes the functions of the whole body, including the emotions. A person whose liver system is not functioning properly will likely have emotional struggles such as irritability, frustration, aggression, impatience, stubbornness, and anger. Dandelion root or greens, milk thistle, artichoke, and chlorophyll-rich foods such as spirulina, wheatgrass, and chlorella may be helpful. Because stress can particularly aggravate problems with this system, it is also important to find ways to relax and manage stress.


The jobs of the small and large intestines are to absorb nutrients and eliminate digestive waste. In order for this to happen properly, the intestines must have healthy cells lining the walls and the muscles must be able to contract rhythmically (peristalsis) to move matter along. Sufficient fibre and water must be consumed to ensure proper elimination, but I’m sure you already know that. If you do suffer from constipation, then avoid alcohol, yeasted breads, foods with baking powder or baking soda, and refined ‘white’ foods such as white bread, white pasta, white sugar, and white rice. General foods to implement for chronic diarrhea are rice or barley broth, leek, eggplant, sunflower seeds, yam, and aduki beans.

While many of TCM’s wordings for how the digestive system works are different from conventional allopathic medicine, the basic principles are similar. Eat healthy, whole foods, limit junk foods, chew your food well, eat regular meals, and enjoy!

Identifying and Fixing Brain Chemical Imbalances


We all have friends and family members with health issues, including depression, anxiety, migraines and dementia. But what most of us don’t know is that we all have blood sugar problems that can lead to these brain chemistry problems.So what leads to these blood sugar imbalances? How exactly does blood sugar imbalances lead to deficits in brain chemicals like serotonin? And, how do these imbalances cause brain dysfunction – specifically depression, anxiety, migraine headaches and dementia?

Let’s first spend some time with the numbers:

  • Mental disorders affect 1 in 4 worldwide.
  • 16 percent of adults are at risk of depression during their lifetime. Of these, 50 percent will also suffer anxiety disorder.
  • Approximately 3.4 million Americans 71 and older have dementia. Of those, 9.7 percent – or 2.4 million Americans – have been diagnosed with Alzheimers.
  • Between 12 percent and 28 percent of Americans have migraines during their lifetime.

An obvious conclusion is that these are prevalent diseases and they touch every one of us in some way. But how is this connected with our blood sugar?

The simple answer is, your brain needs fuel to make seritonin and the other chemicals that make us happy and energetic. If the brain does not get this chemical, consistently and over time, we feel like we are lacking, either in energy or good humor. If you have depression or know someone who does, you know low energy and depression go together.

One in four Americans have “metabolic syndrome” otherwise known as “insulin resistance.” (In my practice, I encounter far more patients with this resistance – as much as 80 percent.) Insulin resistance causes wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

The brain is the most dependent part of your body to glucose, or sugar. Your brain needs sugar for the brain to change one molecule into another – in other words it needs a sufficient amount of biological energy called ATP. This happens during the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. That energy is derived from the sugars in our food in the form of glucose (sugar, or blood sugar).

When the brain does not have enough energy, and especially over many years, a depletion of serotonin is the result. With a depletion of serotonin, our brains cannot respond to pleasurable events and the result is depression. This is called endogenous depression; i.e. depression is due primarily to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Mainstream medicine and psychology often fail to help people with this type of depression, because they have no proper explanation as to what causes “endogenous” depression.

If a person has fluctuations in the level of glucose in their blood over time, they are vulnerable to having low levels of the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which control mood, energy levels, memory and pain. This is the cause of the mental diseases that I have listed above, including depression, anxiety/panic attacks, migraine headaches and dementia.

(I am an acupuncturist and clinician, so there will be some physicians, psychiatrists, neurologists and scientists who disagree about migraines and dementia being in the category of brain chemical imbalance, but from a clinician/treatment perspective, patients respond well to these treatments.)

What are some solutions?

For depression: Current medical solutions include anti-depressant drugs. These can be very effective, especially in the short-term. They do have side effects ranging from mild to severe, but these drugs are used with shocking frequency and volume. A large percentage of my chronic patients have been on them for many years and have no plans to get off of them.

One problem I have with the drugs (aside from the side effects) is that is does nothing to address the underlying problem of blood sugar imbalance. (We are speaking of the connection between blood sugar and depression, but thyroid function plays a huge roll also.)

Anxiety is also treated with anti-depressants, unless it is severe, and then it is often treated with valium-type drugs like Xanax. These drugs really pump up the GABA (one of the neurotransmitters, mostly responsible for calming) which is great for someone with anxiety attacks, but it is really difficult to stop taking these “diazepams” once the brain gets dependent on them.

Migraine headaches are also treated with drugs. There are drugs for when a person is having a severe headache – some are tartans, or narcotic pain medication. The side effects of tartans can be severe, and narcotics have the effect of not being able to work or drive. And this treatment strategy addresses the severe episodes, but not the cause, which can be ongoing for decades.

There are drugs for preventing attacks, but all of these drugs are primarily for other diseases and have been found to be moderately effective for preventing migraine headaches. The types of drugs are interesting in that they all either affect the central nervous system, or relieve the effects of stress peripherally. These drugs are anti-depressants, anti-histamines, anti-seizure drugs and botulinum toxin (Botox).

According to the Mayo Clinic website: “In most cases, preventive medications don’t eliminate headaches completely, and some cause serious side effects.”

The common thread through all of these diseases is that drug therapies help control the symptoms of the imbalance, but do nothing to address the underlying cause of the neurotransmitter imbalance, which is glucose level fluctuations in the blood.

So, how can we fix the underlying cause of these brain chemical imbalances?

Clearing up depression, anxiety, and migraine headaches using acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary changes is very successful, but it takes a commitment of time and energy (money and lifestyle change) from the patient. Here is the simple-to-say protocol:

  1. Acupuncture twice a month.
  2. Eat in a way that keeps a constant, but slow flow of glucose to your blood. This means starting with a protein-rich breakfast and a snack every two to three hours with protein in it. There aren’t many protein snacks (nuts, eggs, meat, beans, seaweed, protein shake) but we all get used to eating these. Don’t finish meals with a sugar-rich dessert. And, do not eat simple carbohydrates, like bread, baked goods, bagels, etc. between meals. These products will make your blood sugar spike like crazy.
  3. Take supplements and herbal medicines that fix the chemical pathways that are broken to restore insulin sensitivity.

When my patients do these things for a few months, most of the brain chemistry imbalances described above slowly disappear.

When brain chemistry deficits are the result of blood sugar fluctuations, the problem is not cleared up quickly. Blood sugar levels need to be maintained for the brain to produce the neurotransmitters and then it takes time for those chemicals to reach normal levels again. Most patients start to see improvement in two to four weeks, but don’t feel normal again for months.

If nothing is done to correct insulin resistance, the result is often Type II diabetes. This is the most severe form of insulin resistance, at it’s most severe the body loses the ability to produce insulin and the patient is dependent on insulin shots for the rest of their life. And that result is one we should all be inspired to avoid.


Can Acupuncture Help You Get Pregnant?

For some women, acupuncture is not only a way to relieve stress when you’re trying to conceive, it has also shown some promise for increasing fertility.


  • Can acupuncture boost your fertility and help you get pregnant? 
  • What are the benefits of trying acupuncture for fertility? 
  • Are there any risks of doing acupuncture when you’re trying to conceive? 
  • Acupuncture pressure points for fertility and what to expect at your appointment 
  • How much does acupuncture cost? Does insurance cover it? 
  • Success rates of doing acupuncture when TTC 
  • Success stories of trying acupuncture for fertility 
  • Should you try acupuncture during pregnancy too? 

While getting poked and prodded might not seem like the most appealing way to boost your fertility, some research has shown that acupuncture may help women conceive. It doesn’t hurt that it also may relieve stress and help you relax, which also may increase your chances of getting pregnant. 

Acupuncture works by stimulating nerve endings deep below the surface of the skin. By manipulating the needles in conjunction with gentle electrical stimulation (a practice known as electropuncture), your nerves are activated, helping your body release substances called endorphins. This can have positive effects on fertility, including relieving any stress and depression that may be weighing you down.

Can acupuncture boost your fertility and help you get pregnant?

The verdict is still out on whether acupuncture does increase fertility, but some research is promising. A small study found that acupuncture performed before and after an in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryo transfer were more likely than women who just made lifestyle changes to get pregnant. A review of 23 studies showed that acupuncture improved the chances of conceiving in women undergoing IVF, although this finding remains controversial.

What are the benefits of trying acupuncture for fertility?

Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce depression, which can be a problem for women struggling with infertility. It can also decrease stress and anxiety that can contribute to fertility problems. What’s more, high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) have been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage in women once they become pregnant.

Are there any risks of doing acupuncture when you’re trying to conceive?

The practice is usually safe, but it’s important to seek out a certified and licensed professional who’s familiar with infertility care. Ask your reproductive endocrinologist if he or she can refer you to anyone.

As an extra precaution, ask to look at the needles that will be used in your treatment to make sure they’re individually packaged, single-use needles. Your practitioner should also use an alcohol swab on the skin each time before inserting a needle.

Many acupuncturists also recommend herbal therapies. It’s very important to discuss these therapies with your reproductive endocrinologist to make sure that they’re safe to take with the fertility treatments you’ve been prescribed.

Acupuncture pressure points for fertility and what to expect at your appointment

Your initial visit should include an in-depth consultation. Questions may not immediately seem to be related to infertility but are important for the practitioner to determine the ideal therapy for you.

After the consultation, the acupuncturist will use a variety of points in an effort to enhance fertility or blood flow to certain organs. Pressure points on the head promote relaxation, while points around the stomach help open up the supply of fresh blood to the ovaries. Other points around the lower legs are used to promote blood flow to the reproductive organs, which starts at the feet.

Needles are left in for around 20-25 minutes while you relax in a room. Follow-up visits are shorter and usually don’t include a consultation.

Success rates of doing acupuncture when TTC

Success rates aren’t set in stone because some studies have shown that acupuncture helps increase fertility, especially in women who are having trouble conceiving, while other studies haven’t shown any increase. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that acupuncture only caused a negligible (around 1 percent) increase in pregnancy outcomes, but other research has shown that acupuncture in conjunction with other fertility treatments increases success rates by 50 percent.

Again, many of these are small pilot studies; larger, controlled studies still need to be done. However, there are few if any studies showing that acupuncture has a negative impact on fertility or treatment outcomes.    

Success stories of trying acupuncture for fertility

While the research is still somewhat unclear, there are many success stories about how acupuncture helped with fertility and conceiving. Suzie of Charleston, South Carolina, did acupuncture weekly in conjunction with her IVF treatments. She’s now a mom to 2-year-old Byron and pregnant with a daughter due in July.

Jacqui of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, had a similar positive experience. She tried for six months to get pregnant, and after the first acupuncture treatment was able to conceive. The treatments, according to Jacqui, were also calming and soothing, which was really helpful during a particularly stressful time.

Reagen of Helena, Montana, a mom of four, also says acupuncture helped her seal the deal.

Should you try acupuncture during pregnancy too? 

Yes, acupuncture, like massage, can be helpful when you’re pregnant. Acupuncture seems to have the ability to alleviate some of the undesirable symptoms of pregnancy like morning sickness, fatigue and depression. Some research has shown that in pregnant women who did depression-focused acupuncture, the treatment reduced symptoms by 63 percent.It’s not completely clear whether acupuncture is effective at increasing fertility, but it has been shown to help with the depression and anxiety that can make trying to get pregnant more difficult. It’s also been shown to help women who are already undergoing IVF have better outcomes. And while it’s often not covered by insurance, the cost of acupuncture compared to fertility treatments like IVF is minor. If there’s a possibility that acupuncture will boost your chances of getting pregnant or at least lift some of the stress you’re dealing with, it may be worth a try.


Acupuncture for Allergies


Acupuncture was developed by traditional Chinese medical practitioners to treat a wide range of health problems. Once only used in Eastern cultures, it has gradually gained acceptance by medical professionals in the West. Acupuncture is now commonly used to treat everything from pain, stress, and nausea. Lesser-known uses, such as the treatment of allergies, are also gaining popularity.

History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient practice that started in what is now China. It’s based on the belief that life energy, called qi, pronounced “chee,” flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. By inserting thin needles at specific points, called “acupuncture points,” skilled practitioners seek to restore the flow of energy to eliminate pain and other ailments.

Western medicine doesn’t accept the traditional explanation of acupuncture’s mechanism of action. No evidence that meridians exist has ever been documented by modern science, but despite ongoing questions regarding how it works, science has shown that at least in some instances, it does work. Pain relief is one example. Controlled clinical trials have shown that acupuncture can relieve pain, sometimes better than drugs, in conditions such as chronic lower back pain, migraines, neck pain, and post-operative pain.

Acupuncture and Allergies and Eczema

What about using acupuncture for the treatment of allergies and eczema? Preliminary research indicates that acupuncture may help allergy and eczema symptoms.

Researchers at the University Medical Center in Berlin conducted a large, multi-center studyTrusted Source of the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. The study divided 422 people into three groups for two months: one group received acupuncture treatment, the second received “fake” acupuncture, with needles placed in random, meaningless spots on their bodies, and the third group only took antihistamines. At the end of the study, the group that received acupuncture therapy reported greater relief from symptoms than the other two groups.

However, the group receiving the fake acupuncture treatment also reported relief of their symptoms, though not as much as the group receiving acupuncture. Furthermore, four months later, as a follow-up, the difference between the effectiveness of the real and fake acupuncture treatment groups was less pronounced. This suggests a placebo effect may have taken place with the people receiving acupuncture, in anticipation of its beneficial effects.

In another studyTrusted Source, researchers were unable to support or disprove the use of acupuncture as treatment for hay fever.

Other studiesTrusted Source have looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is an itchy rash that can be caused by irritants like soap or lotions. They found that acupuncture significantly reduced itchiness in some patients. They noted that preventative acupuncture did not work as well as concurrent acupuncture.


In a reviewTrusted Source of published trials, researchers concluded that there is some evidence to support the claim that acupuncture is beneficial and cost-effective as an additional treatment for seasonal allergic rhinitis. However, at this time, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that acupuncture is effective as a stand-alone treatment. This conclusion echoes what other scientists who have previously reviewed the existing evidence have determined. So while the study results are promising, present evidence is mixed, at best. More studies are also needed to evaluate acupuncture as a treatment of eczema.

If you’re interested in acupuncture therapy, start by talking to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a center or practitioner.


Low Oxalates Foods May Help Reduce Auto-Immune Disease Risk, Autism and Fibromyalgia

Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., DACBN, MS, CFMP

Oxalate (or oxalic acid) is a compound found in a variety of plant-based foods. Under a microscope, oxalates are jagged in structure and look somewhat crystalline.

During metabolism, oxalic acid combines with other minerals like calcium, sodium, magnesium, and potassium to form compounds like calcium oxalate and sodium oxalate in the kidneys. This in turn may be responsible for mineral deficiencies.

One of the most common issues with increased oxalates in the urine (hyperoxaluria) is the formation of kidney stones. However, if the body struggles to eliminate oxalate it can accumulate as crystals anywhere in the body. Commonly it accumulates in blood, then the eyes, bones, skin, muscles, blood vessels, heart and other organs.

High oxalates have also been linked with autism and inflammatory bowel disease. It can also be an underlying issue in those with ongoing gut problems or irritable bowel syndrome.

Tissue destruction, fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are all issues that can be related to oxalates because oxalate in tissues trigger the inflammasome reactions of the body’s innate immune system.

As a side note, the thyroid will also suffer as oxalates can bind to T3 and disturb thyroid function.

The following list of vegetables should be helpful in identifying foods high in oxalates

Low Oxalates Foods May Help Reduce Auto-Immune Disease Risk, Autism and Fibromyalgia

As you can see from the list above your favorite spinach (> 900 mgs of oxalates) green smoothie may be contributing to a host of health issues!

Low oxalate diets involve eating less food that’s high in oxalates. Foods high in oxalates include certain types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes.

On a low oxalate diet, you should limit your oxalate to 40 to 50 mg each day.


Whether for kidney stone prevention or to address other possible chronic health conditions, a low oxalate diet may be the solution.
On a low oxalate diet, you may notice a decreased risk of kidney stones, improved mineral absorption, diminished joint and muscle pain, improvement in fibromyalgia, autism symptoms and improvement of autoimmune symptoms.


The Gene That Makes the Ketogenic Diet Dangerous

Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., DACBN, MS, CFMP

With all the craze about the ketogenic diet it would behoove one to know if they are a candidate for this type of diet.

First for those not familiar with the ketogenic diet here is a short summary:

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used mainly to treat hard-to-control epilepsy in children. Here are 8 additional benefits:

  1. Triglycerides Tend to Drop Drastically
  2. Increased Levels of ‘Good’ HDL Cholesterol
  3. Reduced Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
  4. May Lower Blood Pressure
  5. Effective Against Metabolic Syndrome
  6. A Greater Proportion of Fat Loss Comes From Your Abdominal Cavity
  7. Improved ‘Bad’ LDL Cholesterol Levels
  8. Therapeutic for Several Brain Disorders (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease)

Now with all of these benefits the scientific literature has investigated if indeed this type of diet is beneficial for all people.

Well it may ultimately come down to your genes. Most specifically, your APOE genotype.

The three different types of APOE genes are as follows:

APOE2 – Best suited to a High Fat / Low Carb Diet (saturated fats are good)
APOE3 – Suitable For Both
APOE4 – Best Suited For A High Monounsaturated Fat / Low Carb Diet (Avoid Saturated Fats)

Research studies have shown that APOE4 carriers are most effected by high cholesterol, and benefit more from a low saturated fat diet, instead using monounsaturated fats,  low carb diet, whereas APOE 2 carriers suit a high fat low carb diet, regardless of the saturated fats.

So what should you do?

Ask your doctor to order the APOE genotype blood test and see if you are in fact a carrier of the APOE4 gene.

If you are a carrier of the APOE4 gene, I recommend decreasing your consumption of saturated fats and focus more on monounsaturated fats.


Acupuncture Can Lower High Blood Pressure

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MDFROM THE WEBMD ARCHIVES 

June 11, 2001 — Some people swear by acupuncture. They’ll tell you how a few painless sessions as a human pincushion cured vicious migraines or relentless back pain. Others remain skeptical, dismissing the ancient practice as mumbo jumbo. Now, scientists investigating its actions in heart disease have found not only that acupuncture works, but why and how. One day, they tell WebMD, that blood pressure medication might be replaced by a few pins and needles.

John C. Longhurst, MD, PhD, first became interested in acupuncture on a research trip to China. “I met an investigator who’d been doing work in acupuncture for years. I saw that he was a very good scientist,” he says. “I, like most scientists, thought acupuncture was a lot of hocus pocus. But when I saw his work, I knew there was something to it.”

Once home, Longhurst, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine, began the first of four investigations into the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture.

In it, his team tested cats with heart disease. “We showed that acupuncture helped the animals by reducing ischemia — the lack of oxygen to the heart” caused when blood vessels are blocked, he says. That was hard evidence that the therapy worked. Next, they tried to determine how it was happening.

In acupuncture, invisible pathways connecting one body part to another are called meridians. “They are located over major [nerve] pathways that are accessed when you put a needle in,” says Longhurst. Stimulating the pathway “sends impulses to the brain, activating different areas.” Some affect pain, “which explains why acupuncture can control pain,” he says, “and others regulate the cardiovascular system.”

One such area, just above the spinal cord in the brain stem, regulates release of adrenaline — a chemical that makes hearts pound and blood pressure soar. But when they induced an “adrenaline rush” in animals, acupuncture “prevented this from occurring. It blocked the effect,” says Longhurst. Hearts beat normally and blood pressure remained low.

In the third study, the team found they could reverse acupuncture’s heart-healthy effects by injecting cats with a synthetic version of naturally occurring opioids — brain chemicals that produce a “runner’s high,” kicking in when we’re in severe pain. “So, we’re narrowing it down, getting more specific and detailed in terms of what’s going on,” says Longhurst.


A fourth study is underway in human subjects, he tells WebMD, but it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.

The ultimate goal of this work is to help the huge number of patients with ischemia, high blood pressure, and irregular heart beat, or heart arrhythmias, he tells WebMD. “The current meds have a lot of side effects. If we can reduce [their medication needed] with acupuncture, that would be great.”

Experts agree it’s not a far-fetched idea. “There has to be something more to acupuncture than the placebo effect or hypnosis,” says Joseph Alpert, MD, Flinn Professor of Medicine and chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “My colleagues have seen people have open heart surgery with only acupuncture, no anesthesia. This is not a bunch of malarkey,” he tells WebMD, “it’s real.”

Pascal J. Goldschmidt, MD, FACC, chief of cardiology at Duke University, agrees. “It’s not an accident that people have been doing acupuncture for so long,” he tells WebMD. The findings are “pretty clear that it’s not a placebo effect. Acupuncture seems to be having a relatively specific effect on the control of blood pressure.”WebMD Health News