Medical Research

Acupuncture and Hypertension: Cochrane Review

Kristen Sparrow • December 01, 2018

Ancient Medicine Made Modern

In this review, they conclude that given the current studies, there were none of sufficient scope and power to show clinical benefit of verum (real) acupuncture over sham.  This is pretty much the state of the majority of acupuncture research.  Since there is little money for it here in the U.S., we hope that there may be funding in Europe that can explore acupuncture for hypertension.

I will also add, that they infer that much of acupuncture’s effects on hypertension are placebo related.  Most of Longhurst‘s seminal work on acupuncture and hypertension was done on lab animals, which are not prone to placebo effects.  In the next blog post, I will look at a recent study of Longhurst mapping out the physiology of acupuncure and hypertension.

But I also need to allow that I can get attached to theories.  A person no less than Darwin made it a golden rule to note down with especial care any observations which seemed unfavorable to his theory.*


2018 Nov 14;11:CD008821. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008821.pub2. [Epub ahead of print]

Acupuncture for hypertension.



Elevated blood pressure (hypertension) affects about one billion people worldwide. It is important as it is a major risk factor for stroke and myocardial infarction. However, it remains a challenge for the medical profession as many people with hypertension have blood pressure (BP) that is not well controlled. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, acupuncture has the potential to lower BP.


To assess the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for lowering blood pressure in adults with primary hypertension.


We searched the Hypertension Group Specialised Register (February 2017); the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) 2017, Issue 2; MEDLINE (February 2017); Embase (February 2017), China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) (January 2015), VIP Database (January 2015), the World Health Organisation Clinical Trials Registry Platform (February 2017)and (February 2017). There were no language restrictions.


We included all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the clinical effects of an acupuncture intervention (acupuncture used alone or add-on) with no treatment, a sham acupuncture or an antihypertensive drug in adults with primary hypertension.


Two review authors independently selected studies according to inclusion and exclusion criteria. They extracted data and assessed the risk of bias of each trial, and telephoned or emailed the authors of the studies to ask for missing information. A third review author resolved disagreements. Outcomes included change in systolic blood pressure (SBP), change in diastolic blood pressure (DBP), withdrawal due to adverse effects, and any adverse events. We calculated pooled mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for continuous outcomes using a fixed-effect or random-effects model where appropriate.


Twenty-two RCTs (1744 people) met our inclusion criteria. The RCTs were of variable methodological quality (most at high risk of bias because of lack of blinding). There was no evidence for a sustained BP lowering effect of acupuncture; only one trial investigated a sustained effect and found no BP lowering effect at three and six months after acupuncture. Four sham acupuncture controlled trials provided very low quality evidence that acupuncture had a short-term (one to 24 hours) effect on SBP (change) -3.4 mmHg (-6.0 to -0.9) and DBP -1.9 mmHg (95% CI -3.6 to -0.3). Pooled analysis of eight trials comparing acupuncture with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and seven trials comparing acupuncture to calcium antagonists suggested that acupuncture lowered short-term BP better than the antihypertensive drugs. However, because of the very high risk of bias in these trials, we think that this is most likely a reflection of bias and not a true effect. As a result, we did not report these results in the ‘Summary of findings’ table. Safety of acupuncture could not be assessed as only eight trials reported adverse events.


At present, there is no evidence for the sustained BP lowering effect of acupuncture that is required for the management of chronically elevated BP. The short-term effects of acupuncture are uncertain due to the very low quality of evidence. The larger effect shown in non-sham acupuncture controlled trials most likely reflects bias and is not a true effect. Future RCTs must use sham acupuncture controls and assess whether there is a BP lowering effect of acupuncture that lasts at least seven days.

*from “discover your Genius” by Michael J. Gelb