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Acupuncture for Hypertension and Stroke

By Jeff Denny

According to TCM, Hypertension occurs when the body, especially the heart, must work harder to perform daily functions. This is often times subtle and without any viable symptoms, which is why Hypertension is sometimes referred to as a "Silent Killer." Of the 50 million Americans who have it, 35 percent are unaware. The simplest and easiest way to see if you are at risk or have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked regularly by a doctor or TCM physician. Acupuncture is becoming more widely known as an alternative therapy for curbing high blood pressure.

Modern medicine recognizes to two types of high blood pressure. The first is referred to as Essential or Labile Hypertension. The second is called Organic or Secondary Hypertension. In the case of the former, there is no known cause though some scientists and physicians link it to high stress levels. It is important to note here that stress is a natural biological function related to the Fight or Flight response of the adrenal glands, which regulate the heart beat and support elimination. Stress, due to external and internal influence, in itself is not considered a cause of high blood pressure but rather it is the manner in which an individual handles stress that factors into their susceptibility to high blood pressure; diet, smoking, consumption of alcohol and caffeine, obesity, and genetic proclivities must also be addressed. Only when these as well as diseases, cancers, and tumors of the heart, liver, kidneys, and hormonal system that characterize Secondary Hypertension are ruled out as causations of high blood pressure, can a diagnosis of Essential Hypertension be made.

While Western medicine views all Hypertension as an illness, Traditional Chinese Medicine sees it as a warning indication of unharmonious conditions and disease in the human ecosystem. In the Eastern view of a body with high blood pressure, there exists a state of imbalance of blood, Qi, and moisture being supplied to the organs of the body. For example, excessive Qi flow to the liver has been referenced as a cause for high blood pressure.

Since high blood pressure is so ambiguous when it comes to its cause, an Acupuncturist must first determine where the imbalance is most volatile before ever inserting a needle. General treatments based on case studies in which needles are inserted at Acupuncture Points (ST 9, ST 16, LR 3, GB 20, etc.) along with lifestyle and dietary changes are often times used and have proved successful in many instances. This is especially true when high blood pressure is detected in its early stages before the point at which arteries begin to harden, blood clots form, and heart attack or strokes may occur, but each individual differs so at times more specialized treatments must be initiated.

There is a saying in TCM that says Qi follows the mind and blood follows Qi. So when a disruption in energy flow occurs, a disruption of blood and moisture traffic is soon to follow. If the liver or kidneys are working overtime-as is the case with heavy alcohol consumption, high salt intake, and obesity-to detoxify the blood they will need more energy or Qi to do so. This energy doesn't come without its cost of depleting and causing excess in other areas and organs of the body such as the heart and digestive system. Regardless of where the spike or trough is taking place in the body, it will adversely affect the way energy from nutrients such as food, air, water, and light are assimilated and transported through the blood stream and the manner in which wastes are expelled. Remember here what the adrenals are responsible for, when pumping blood and excretion of toxins become more difficult they must produce more adrenaline. This is stressful to the body and causes constrictions in muscles, tissues, nerves, etc. throughout.

Supposing high blood pressure can exist in a vacuum state where all external and internals stresses can be ruled out as a cause, what can Acupuncture do to help with Hypertension? Acupuncture is the insertion of needles into specific points in the body. These points lie on energy channels or meridians and do not necessarily correspond to underlying tissue or organs. When inserted, the needles send a neuro-chemical message via the nervous and endocrine systems to the portion of the brain that corresponds to the area of the body that is unbalanced. You may hear the Acupuncturist express this disturbance in terms such as excess Wind, Fire, or Water, among other diagnoses. The brain sensing something is amiss triggers the releases of endorphins (natural pain killers) to areas under distress. These endorphins are received by opioid receptors which tell the organ(s) to relax and return to normal functioning levels. In turn, the rest of the system can then return to normal status, including regulation of bl ood pressure. Adding all other influences of high blood pressure, Acupuncture can help to slow the entire system with the release of endorphins to engender a more tranquil state as in meditation. Used regularly, Acupuncture has the potential of reducing high blood pressure causing stress long term

A trained Acupuncturist can recognize the origins of high blood pressure by observing certain symptoms. Headache, dizziness, eye disorders, and numbness suggest a Liver imbalance. Palpitations, poor memory, and insomnia represent Heart distress. And ringing in the ears and accumulation are resultant of Kidney disorder. Patients' subjective feelings and experiences become very important in this instance. If a patient says, "Something just isn't right," it probably isn't in the eyes of an Acupuncturist. Bodily language along with tongue and urine analyses is also used to determine cause of high blood pressure.

In a study at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California Irvine conducted by Dr. John C. Longhurst, clinical studies of the effects of Acupuncture on Hypertensive rats were initiated. The results supported the above information, linking endorphin release with decreased heart activity and lower blood pressure levels. Needles charged with low frequency electrical stimulation were also proven effective. TCM Dr. Zhu Qiang has also experimented and had success with electrical stimulation of Acupuncture points in terms of high blood pressure. He markets a device called a BP Regulator that attaches to Acupuncture points on the ears.

Stroke or cerebro-vascular accident is categorized as one of four types. Ischemic is the most common and is a blockage of a cerebral blood vessel or vessel leading to the head. Thrombosis is a blockage of a vessel within the head or neck. An embolism is a migration of a blockage to the head region. Stenosis is a severe narrowing of an artery leading to or in the brain. It is recommended that Acupuncture treatment be initiated a week after Stroke. The sooner it is taken up the more effective it will be as the brain and bodily tissues atrophy over time.

One particular Acupuncture treatment of Stroke that has been known to be greatly efficacious in the improvement of motor and cognitive skills is that of Scalp Acupuncture. Much of the current method was developed and popularized by Professor Ming Quing Zhu, a 1964 graduate of the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In this treatment, needles are inserted directly into the scalp according to a map of brain functions. The needles alter blood and hormone levels that effect brain activity and blood flow to portions of the brain related to other body parts damaged from Stroke. They can be left in for anywhere from two to seventy-two hours. In addition, manual movements of the affected area of the body or visualization accompanied by Qi-Gong breathing exercises are prescribed while the needles are in place under the skin. This is also true in traditional Acupuncture which can be beneficial to Stroke victims.

It has been noticed that Stroke victims are often times affected more on one side of the body than the other. Their facial features sometimes can appear frozen or locked. This is directly connected to which hemisphere of the brain the Stroke occurred. The release of endorphins from Acupuncture can help to relax the muscles and tissues of the face and the rest of the body. Tension in the muscles and tissue hinders the free flow of moisture, blood, and other bodily fluids. It is especially important in cases of Stroke that Qi flow be restored as everything follows in its path. Acupuncture along with conscious participation of the patient can help expedite this process.

Auricle Acupuncture points as in the ones utilized to lower high blood pressure have also shown to be effective in treating Stroke. The ears have more nerve endings and capillaries than any other portion of the body. In TCM, parts of the ear are linked to all other areas of the body. The theories and case studies seem to support that Acupuncture treatments performed in closer proximity to the brain are the most beneficial for Stroke victim recovery.

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