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UCI study finds acupuncture lowers hypertension by activating natural opioids

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Credit: Chris Nugent / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 31, 2016 — Researchers with the 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.

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.

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.

Hypertension affects about one third of the adult population of the world, and its consequences, such as stroke and heart attacks, are enormous public health problems, and the potential advantages of acupuncture over conventional medical therapy include few, if any, of side effects.

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The open access study is available at: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35791. It was supported by NIH grants HL-072125, AT009347 and AHA 10POST4190125.

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