Moving the needle on heart disease in women
A needle and thread won’t mend a broken heart, but maybe just a needle will: A new study shows acupuncture could be key in improving women’s heart health.
World renowned cardiologist C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD - director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai and the Women’s Guild Chair in Women’s Health - has been studying and using alternative therapies to treat a deadly foe: chronic heart disease in women. She led a recent study showing that women who practiced transcendental meditation had lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and risk of sudden cardiac death than those receiving medical treatment only.
So what if other alternative and complementary therapies could help, too?
Dr. Bairey-Merz, along with colleagues with expertise in acupuncture, conducted a pilot study to see if traditional acupuncture could benefit patients with heart disease. The study revealed that women who received cardiac-specific acupuncture treatments had a positive change in their heart rate variability.
Heart rate variability measures the beat-to-beat difference in intervals between heart rates, which is an important clue in diagnosing the health of the cardiovascular system. People who have had heart attacks or aren’t cardiovascularly fit have less variability in their heart rate, which puts them at a greater risk for arrhythmia and sudden cardiac arrest.
“Our findings suggest that acupuncture is having an effect on nerve pathways between the brain and the heart,” says the study’s lead Puja Mehta, MD, director of the Non-invasive Vascular Function Research Laboratory in the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. Dr. Mehta’s clinical work focuses on prevention and behavioral approaches such as exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, and meditation for heart disease.