Researchers have identified the molecular mechanism behind electroacupunture’s blood pressure-lowering benefits. Chris Nugent / UCI

UCI study finds acupuncture lowers hypertension by activating opioids

Researchers with UCI’s Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine have found that regular electroacupunture treatments 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 boosted the gene expression of enkephalins, one of the three major opioid peptides produced by the body. Their study, which appears in Nature’s Scientific Reports, presents the first evidence of the molecular activity behind electroacupunture’s hypertension-lowering benefits. Last year, the UCI team reported that patients treated with acupuncture at certain wrist locations experienced drops in their blood pressure. The current study shows that repetitive electroacupuncture evokes a long-lasting action in lowering blood pressure, suggesting that it may be suitable for treating clinical hypertension. The condition affects about one-third of the world’s adult population, and its consequences – such as strokes and heart attacks – are enormous public health problems. Potential advantages of acupuncture over conventional medical therapy include few, if any, side effects. The open-access study – supported by NIH grants HL-072125, AT009347 and AHA 10POST4190125 – is available at http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35791.

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