Researchers found that blood pressure levels declined slightly in a small group of patients treated 30 minutes a week with "electroacupuncture"
"Potentially, blood pressure can be kept low with a monthly follow-up treatment," said study co-author Dr. John Longhurst, a cardiologist at the University of California, Irvine.
An estimated 70 million U.S. adults -- one in three -- have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's believed that only half have their condition under control. High blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart disease.
Blood pressure can often be lowered by becoming more fit, taking medications or both. But these approaches don't work for everyone, and medication can cause side effects, especially among the elderly.
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese therapy, is increasingly viewed as a possible alternative, the researchers said in background notes with the study. Practitioners insert thin needles into key points on the body in an attempt to rebalance the flow of energy.
Because previous studies on acupuncture's effect on high blood pressure have had mixed results, the researchers set out to explore the subject more thoroughly. They compared electroacupuncture at two sets of points in their study of 65 high blood pressure patients
High blood pressure was defined as 140-180 mm Hg over 90-99 mm Hg. None of the participants was taking blood pressure medication.
Normal blood pressure is defined as 119/79 or lower, according to the U.S. Institutes of Health.
Patients were randomly assigned to one of two types of acupuncture for eight weeks. One type targeted the inner wrists and legs below the knee -- points shown to potentially lower blood pressure in previous research. The other technique involved the forearm and lower leg and resulted in no blood pressure improvement, the researchers said.