Heart failure patients need physical activity but their hearts are too weak to do much exercise. So what’s a heart failure patient to do? The answer is needles – the traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture. This was reported by a pilot study by researchers at the University of Heidelberg Hospital.
Heart failure is condition characterized by chronic weakness of the heart muscle resulting in less efficient heart pumping. The reduction in heart power also translates in reduction in physical capacity to perform everyday actives like walking or climbing the stairs. In addition, the autonomic nervous system and its neurotransmitters become imbalanced, which further worsens the symptoms of shortness of breath and fatigue. The patient becomes intolerant to physical exertion.
How can acupuncture help?
Acupuncture doesn’t help with the heart muscle itself but rather influences the skeletal muscles. It counteracts the imbalance in the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems and “influences the autonomic nervous system (excitation), boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation), and also has an anti-inflammatory affect.”
In other words, the needle fight the fatigue and the exhausting, enabling the patients to tolerate more exercise.
The study results showed that those patients who received real acupuncture could walk longer distances and felt less fatigue than those patients who got the dud needles.
In addition, Acupuncture was also shown to influence the inflammation markers. These markers activate the so-called ergoreceptors which signal skeletal muscle exhaustion. Acupuncture was shown to reduce the levels of these markers including TNF alpha which reduces muscle mass and muscle strength.
This study has a great advantage over other studies on acupuncture that lend credence to its results. It compared real acupuncture with “placebo acupuncture” which used dull needles on blinded heart failure patients, e.g. the patients did not know which needles they received.
According to study leader Dr. Johannes Backs
“Most studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture have methodological weaknesses, as there are no placebo controls and the study participants are not ‘blinded’. This means that the patients know which treatment they are given and may therefore have certain expectations. In our studies, all patients thought they had received ‘real’ acupuncture.”
Acupuncture is currently being used as a low-cost adjunct therapy to current clinical practices. It has been shown to reduce side effects of chemotherapy and improve quality of life of cancer patients and is recommended to improve blood pressure control and other cardiovascular disorders.
Acupuncture had the following advantages to current therapies: non-invasiveness, low cost, and the absence of side effects associated with many drugs.