Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.
About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.
A meta-analysis of studies compared approaches to treating essential hypertension (31 trials; n=2649; Tan et al, 2019), concluded that acupuncture may be useful in addressing hypertension, albeit that quality of the studies was limited and further research was warranted. Another analysis of 10 trials in BP amongst stroke patients (Hong et al, 2020; n=847) concluded that acupuncture may be a suitable treatment option for regulating BP after stroke but also noted the low-quality in the data and as need for further well-designed trials.
Niu et al, (2019) examined 13 systematic reviews of 14 non-drug therapies (including acupuncture) in addressing high blood pressure. They concluded that massage and acupuncture plus an antihypertensive drug may benefit people who wanted to lower their blood pressure; once again methodological issues around available research limited the strength of the recommendations.
Mechanism of action:
Animal model studies have shown physiological effects from auricular (ear) acupuncture on the Heart point, whereby using this point regulates cardiovascular function (heart rate, blood pressure). Cardiac related nerve cells were shown to be regulated by the use of Heart (auricular point), lowering blood pressure in the arteries, by means of activating a certain type of nerve cell receptor (baroreceptor sensitive neurons) in part of the brainstem (nucleus tractus solitarius) (Gao et al, 2011).
Acupuncture has been shown in many mechanism-of-action trials to be sympathoinhibitory (able to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system) and lower the stress response in brain and nervous system (Middlekauff et al, 2002).
British Acupuncture Council Hypertension factsheet on the research into acupuncture in this condition
Gao XY et al. Acupuncture-like stimulation at auricular point Heart evokes cardiovascular inhibition via activating the cardiac-related neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarius. Brain Res. 2011;1397:19-27.
Middlekauff, H.R., Hui, K., Yu, J.L., Hamilton, M.A., Fonarow, G.C., Moriguchi, J., MacLellan, W.R. and Hage, A., 2002. Acupuncture inhibits sympathetic activation during mental stress in advanced heart failure patients. Journal of cardiac failure, 8(6), pp.399-406.
Tan, X., Pan, Y., Su, W., Gong, S., Zhu, H., Chen, H. and Lu, S., 2019. Acupuncture therapy for essential hypertension: a network meta-analysis. Annals of translational medicine, 7(12).
Hong, S., Ahn, L., Kwon, J. and Choi, D.J., 2020. Acupuncture for Regulating Blood Pressure of Stroke Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26(12), pp.1105-1116.
Niu, J.F., Zhao, X.F., Hu, H.T., Wang, J.J., Liu, Y.L. and Lu, D.H., 2019. Should acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, Qi gong, relaxation therapy, device-guided breathing, yoga and tai chi be used to reduce blood pressure?: recommendations based on high-quality systematic reviews. Complementary therapies in medicine, 42, pp.322-331.