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Acupuncture Lowers Blood Pressure by Producing a Natural Opioid

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 7:49
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Researchers with the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine have found that regular electroacupunture treatment can lower hypertension by increasing the release of a kind of opioid in the brainstem region that controls blood pressure. Acupuncture lowers blood pressure (BP) in hypertension, but mechanisms underlying its action are unclear.

Approximately one in three adults has high blood pressure (BP) worldwide. Hypertension and its consequences, such as stroke and heart attacks, are enormous public health problems.

In tests on rats, UCI cardiology researcher Zhi-Ling Guo and colleagues noted that reduced blood pressure lasted for at least three days after electroacupuncture by increasing the gene expression of enkephalins, which one of the three major opioid peptides produced by the body.

The UCI study shows that repetitive electroacupuncture evokes a long-lasting action in lowering blood pressure in hypertension.

Credit: Chris Nugent / UCI
Their study, which appears in the Nature’s Scientific Reports, presents the first evidence of the molecular activity behind electroacupunture’s hypertension-lowering benefits.

Last year, the UCI team reported patients treated with acupuncture at certain wrist locations experienced drops in their blood pressure. The present study shows that repetitive electroacupuncture evokes a long-lasting action in lowering blood pressure in hypertension, suggesting that this therapy may be suitable for treating clinical hypertension.

Although the effect of acupuncture on hypertension is controversial acupuncture may offer a non-pharmacological approach to reduce high BP, according to the study. The potential advantages of acupuncture over conventional medical therapy include few, if any, of side effects.

Contacts and sources:

University of California, Irvine
Citation: Repetitive Electroacupuncture Attenuates Cold-Induced Hypertension through Enkephalin in the Rostral Ventral Lateral Medulla Min Li, Stephanie C. Tjen-A-Looi, Zhi-Ling Guo & John C. Longhurst Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 35791 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep35791
The open access study is available at: It was supported by NIH grants HL-072125, AT009347 and AHA 10POST4190125.


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