A recent study from Columbia looks at a topic that is near and dear to me, i.e. autonomic balance, or the stress response, and acupuncture. In my own study (see my website) I found that there was more likely to be a decreased stress response during acupuncture treatment sessions in patients who benefited from acupuncture. Those patients who did not “get better” with acupuncture were less likely to see a decrease in their stress response. This study was performed on healthy volunteers, so, of course they couldn’t draw any correlation with efficacy or outcomes. But I’m thrilled that the correlation of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) with acupuncture is being explored in various centers.

The Acute Effects of Acupuncture Upon Autonomic Balance in Healthy Subjects. The Acute Effects of Acupuncture Upon Autonomic Balance in Healthy Subjects. Carpenter RJ, Dillard J, Zion AS, Gates GJ, Bartels MN, Downey JA, De Meersman RE. Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.Am J Chin Med. 2010;38(5):839-847. Abstract

“Restoration of the sympathovagal (S/V) balance, involving a lowering of sympathetic and/or an augmentation of vagal modulation or a combination of both is associated with improvements in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. To determine whether acupuncture exerts a favorable influence upon resting blood pressure and sympathovagal balance, a single-blind cross-over investigation was used to study the acute effects of acupuncture on S/V balance in normal healthy subjects. The ANOVA revealed a significant lowering of the sympathovagal balance (LF:HF) during rest for the acupuncture treatment from pre (4 +/- 2 nu) to post (2.2 +/- 1.8 nu)(p < style="font-weight: bold;">These findings are of importance since acupuncture treatments are non-pharmacological and have no known detrimental side-effects. This investigation employed healthy volunteers, yet acupuncture has been found to have more potent effects in animal models of hypertension and or in the presence of an autonomic imbalance .” (emphasis mine)

I have successfully treated patients for high blood pressure with acupuncture. I wish I was set up to be able to have HRV readings on all patients, especially those with high blood pressure or other autonomic disturbances. That is something that I’m working towards in my practice.
For other posts on autonomic balance and acupuncture: