Acupuncture is a great tool for heart health. If you have had acupuncture before you know that it makes you feel more relaxed. That feeling of relaxation is you giving your sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, a break in order for the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest, to operate. In acupuncture, fight or flight is more yang, and rest and digest in more yin. The goal is balance, there is a time and place for each. The issue is that most people are in a prolonged fight or flight response and the balance is lost. This is very important when it comes to heart health.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for regulating critical muscle movements in your body, such as the muscles controlling your heartbeat. If there is a critical, emergency situation, that elicits fear and anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system escalates in order to respond to the situation. This is an extremely important function in an emergency. The problem arises when your body is constantly being triggered that it is an emergency situation. Dr. Holly R. Middlekauff explains, “Advanced heart failure patients often have two or three times more sympathetic nerve activity than normal individuals. It has been shown that the greater this activity is, the worse the outlook for the patient, so reducing it could be critical.” A study that Dr. Middlekauff performed at UCLA, found that “sympathetic nerve activation was significantly reduced in the acupuncture group.”
Acupuncture and Heart Rate Variability
Another study found that acupuncture remodels the autonomic nervous system via sympathovagal modulation, which was shown by patients having an increased heart rate variability. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of time variation in between each heartbeat. This is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. HRV can be used as a measurement for the autonomic nervous system and whether someone is in more of a sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” or parasympathetic nervous system “relax and digest” mode. The HRV will be low in fight or flight mode and high in a more relaxed state. The high HRV shows resiliency, while low HRV is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety.
Acupuncture and the Nervous System
Research has shown that acupuncture activates distinct brain regions that control the autonomic nervous system. Acupuncture has shown to influence various autonomic nervous system functions, such as, blood pressure, pupil size, heart rate, pulse rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature, skin conductance, and muscle activity. Clinically, acupuncture has been known to help with cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, polycystic ovary syndrome, and other autonomic nervous system related disorders.
Acupuncture and Heart Disease
Dr. Joel Kahn, a cardiologist, has seen acupuncture used to elicit a positive response in the following heart conditions, angina pain (chest pain), congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, hypertension, and smoking cessation. He says, “perhaps by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system to the heart muscle (the fight or flight system), selected patients with angina respond to acupuncture with less symptoms and better ability to walk long distances.”
Experience using Acupuncture for Heart Health
As mentioned before, one of the most important benefits of acupuncture on the health of the heart is increasing heart rate variability and shifting the nervous system into rest and relax. Even without measuring heart rate variability this is visibly evident in the treatment room. Most patients say that they feel much more relaxed after the treatment. It is often described as a hose being unkinked, a heaviness of the body, like everything is moving slower (in a good way), and an overall sense of ease.
One of my favorite combinations of points for heart health is known as “Buddha’s Triangle.” Acupuncture is not religious, here the term Buddha is just a way to evoke the sense of peace that can be gleamed from the use of these three points that form a triangle on the wrist. They are on the Heart, Pericardium, and Lung channels. All of which impact the Heart organ in acupuncture.
Heat in the Heart
With some heart conditions, such as anxiety and high blood pressure, too much heat building up in the Heart and Heart channel may be an issue. In acupuncture, over thinking, emotional turmoil, and poor diet can create heat in the body (think inflammation). This heat greatly affects the functions of the Heart and is reflected on the tongue by the tip of the tongue being red, or with little red dots. There are acupuncture points that help clear this heat and addressing the root cause of emotions and/or diet helps to treat the issue.
What you can do for heart health
Helpful lifestyle changes and actions you can make for better heart health are:
- Meditation -switching from fight or flight to rest and digest, as we saw earlier is very important for heart health
- Acupuncture –find a licensed acupuncturist, they will be able to treat you based on your specific condition and based on how energy is moving in your body.
- Nutrition –the food we eat fuels our body, it is either helping us or hurting us. Avoid the things that cause harm and inflammation in the body (sugar, soda, processed foods, trans fat, alcohol) and eat more nutrient rich foods (green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, healthy fats)
- Exercise –find an exercise routine that is appropriate for you. Make sure to take a walk outside daily.
All the best,
Kearney DeFillipo L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.