Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center

Font Size

Acupuncture Can Lower High Blood Pressure

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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.

Today on WebMD

blood pressure
Symptoms, causes, and more.
Learn the causes.
Compressed heart
5 habits to change.
Mature man floating in pool, goggles on head
Exercises that help.
heart healthy living
Erectile Dysfunction Slideshow
Bernstein Hypertension Affects Cardiac Risk
Compressed heart
Heart Disease Overview Slideshow
thumbnail for lowering choloesterol slideshow
Heart Foods Slideshow
Low Blood Pressure