Characterized by a waning ability of the heart to pump adequate blood to supply the needs of the body, heart failure is a progressive condition usually caused by injuries to the cardiovascular system, years of chronic blood pressure, or by a heart attack. According to the Heart Failure Society of America, in the United States each year, a quarter of a million people die of heart failure. Severe fatigue with exercise and shortness of breath are the two of the most debilitating outcomes of this condition. However, it has been demonstrated in a new German study that a very old healing technique known as acupuncture can radically improve the exercise tolerance of a person suffering from chronic heart failure.
The Heart journal recently published this new study that involved two groups of subjects both suffering from heart failure. Both groups were in stable condition and were being given conventional drugs. Both groups thought they were being given ten genuine acupuncture treatments. In reality, however, just one group was treated with a traditional Chinese medicine type of acupuncture (true acupuncture). This treatment targeted acupoints known to lessen inflammation markers, influence the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and enhance overall strength. The other group (control group) was administered with placebo needles that merely mimicked acupuncture needle pricks and were not designed to break the skin.
Results of the study show that compared to the placebo treatment group, the members of the true acupuncture group were able to walk much longer. Moreover, although unchanged was the heart’s measurable work capacity, the heart failure patients treated with true acupuncture reported far less exhaustion and recovered much faster after exercise.
Led by Heidelberg University Hospital cardiologist Dr. Johannes Backs, the research team in a press statement said that past researches have demonstrated that the ability tolerate exercise by patients with heart failure is independent of the heart’s pumping function and seems to mainly come from the muscles. In chronic heart failure, the amount of inflammation chemical messengers in the blood rise and this is what causes the muscles to easily tire, resulting in extreme fatigue.
According to one of the authors of the study, Dr. Arnt Kristen, “The blood level of a certain messenger known as TNF alpha (tumor necrosis factor alpha) actually decreases after a true acupuncture therapy. TNF alpha results in a decrease of muscle strength and muscle mass. This may explain acupuncture’s positive effect on the function of the skeletal muscle “.
Heart failure involves an imbalance of the various nerve transmitters and autonomic nervous system and is much more complex than previously believed, the research team noted. In a press statement the researchers explained “Acupuncture’s intervention can bring back balance to these processes. It also has anti-inflammatory abilities; strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system, helping bring about relaxation; and normalizes the autonomic sympathetic nervous system (helps control excitation)”.