23. April 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Acupuncture, Heart Rate

Chinese scientists have shown that acupuncture at Shenmen HE-7 can affect cardiac autonomic neural regulation in healthy subjects. One hundred and twenty subjects were divided into four groups and received four different interventions: verum acupuncture at Shenmen HE-7; non-penetrating sham acupuncture at Shenmen HE-7; verum acupuncture at a sham point; and no acupuncture. Heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic mediators of heart rate, was recorded 10 minutes before, during and after each intervention. The results showed that, compared with sham needling and no acupuncture controls, verum acupuncture at Shenmen HE-7 increased HRV, most likely via stimulation of the the parasympathetic nervous system. (Effect of acupuncture at HT7 on heart rate variability: an exploratory study. Acupunct Med. 2014 Dec 4. pii: acupmed-2013-010441).

A discussion paper by a team of American authors argues that the ability of acupuncture to affect heart rate variability (HRV) might explain how it is able to regulate complex physiological systems. Heart rate variability (HRV), the beat-to-beat fluctuation in cardiac rhythm, results from the regulation of the heart by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Low HRV is associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality and is a marker for a wide range of diseases. Coherent HRV
patterns are associated with increased synchronisation between the two branches of the ANS, and when sustained for long periods of time result in increased synchronisation and entrainment between multiple body systems. Then authors propose that acupuncture may function by mediating global physiological regulation through improvement of HRV and synchronisation of the two branches of the ANS. This view, which is in alignment with systems biology and complexity
theory, is also congruent with Chinese medical theory, which considers the Heart to be the ‘ruler’ of the internal organs. The authors suggest that future research into the mechanisms of acupuncture should focus on HRV and other systems-level markers of physiological function rather than on specific molecular markers that are more appropriate for investigating complex interventions. (Acupuncture and heart rate variability: a systems level approach to understanding mechanism. Explore(NY).2012 Mar-Apr;8(2):99-106).