Acupuncture Can Improve Exercise Tolerance for Those with Heart Conditions

Acupuncture can improve exercise tolerance in patients suffering from chronic heart failure, according to new research from Germany.

The finding comes from a clinical pilot study by the team headed by Dr. Johannes Backs, physician and study director at the Department of Internal Medicine III (Cardiology, Angiology, and Pneumology — Medical Director: Professor Dr. Hugo Katus) of Heidelberg University Hospital. The needles do not increase the heart’s pump function, but they seem to have an influence on skeletal muscle strength and thus can increase the walk distance that heart patients can cover. The results of the clinical study, which was conducted with a comparison group treated with placebo acupuncture using dull needles, have been published in the medical journal Heart.

Acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system

Chronic weakness of the heart muscle is one of the most frequent diseases and causes of death in Europe. Patients with this disease suffer in particular from a reduction in work capacity. Shortness of breath and fatigue brought on by physical exercise are signs of the disease.

The disease is much more complex than previously assumed. It is not only the weakening pump function of the heart muscle that is responsible for the symptoms. What is known as the autonomic or vegetative nervous system and various nerve transmitter substances become imbalanced, which further worsens the course of the disease. This is precisely where acupuncture may intervene, by bringing these processes back into balance — it influences the autonomic sympathetic nervous system (excitation), boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation), and also has an anti-inflammatory affect. Thus far there have been hardly any studies of whether acupuncture can thus influence such life-threatening diseases such as heart failure.

Needles fight exhaustion

The scientists examined patients with heart failure who were treated with the conventional medications and were in stable condition. In addition, patients in the acupuncture group were given ten sessions of acupuncture focusing on the acupuncture points which boost general strength according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and are also known to influence the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and inflammation markers. The control group was treated with special placebo needles that simulate a needle prick but do not break the skin. After this therapy, the acupuncture patients could cover a greater walk distance in the time allowed than the placebo patients. They recovered more quickly and tended to feel subjectively less exhausted. However, the measurable work capacity of the heart was unchanged.

Inflammation messengers cause muscle fatigue

We already know from other studies that heart patient’s ability to tolerate exercise is independent of the pump function of the heart. It appears rather that easily becoming fatigued stems primarily from the muscles. Inflammation messengers in the blood are increased in chronic heart failure and make the muscles tired. They activate what are known as ergoreceptors in the muscle that signalize to the body that the muscle cannot sustain the workload. “The blood level of a certain messenger, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) actually drops after the real acupuncture treatment. Since TNF alpha leads to a reduction of muscle mass and muscle strength among other things, this would explain the positive effect on skeletal muscle function,” explains Dr. Arnt Kristen, one of the authors of the study.

Better long-term prognoses through acupuncture?

“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,” according to Backs. “In our studies, all patients thought they had received ‘real’ acupuncture.” A fascinating question for the future will be whether relatively low-cost acupuncture can improve the prognosis for cardiac patients over the long term.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University Hospital Heidelberg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

A. V. Kristen, B. Schuhmacher, K. Strych, D. Lossnitzer, H.-C. Friederich, T. Hilbel, M. Haass, H. A. Katus, A. Schneider, K. M. Streitberger, J. Backs. Acupuncture improves exercise tolerance of patients with heart failure: a placebo-controlled pilot study. Heart, 2010; DOI: 10.1136/hrt.2009.187930

The Real Problem with Sleeping Problems

Is How You (Don’t) Sleep Making You Sick?

We all know that there are short term problems with not getting a good night’s sleep – a lack of mental sharpness, irritability, falling asleep at inopportune times, etc.  Did you know there are potential long-term risks to your health also?  For instance, people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are twice as likely to have a heart attack, and four times more likely to have a stroke than those who sleep more than 6 hours.  They are also at greater risk of diabetes and obesity.  Extreme fatigue increases appetite and decreases metabolism, and individuals who regularly get less than 4 hours of sleep 4 nights or more a week may easily be in a pre-diabetic state. 

Half of adults 55+ have at least 1 symptom of insomnia at least 3 times per week including:
– Trouble falling asleep
– Waking during the night
– Waking to early and being unable to fall back to sleep
– Not feeling refreshed upon waking

Women suffer from insomnia more than men due to pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.

Twenty million Americans take prescription sleep pills regularly. Over $100 million is spent in the US on over the counter sleep aids per year, and that number does not include prescriptions.  Drug oriented OTCs have been studied and found no more effective than a placebo.  Medications alter sleeping cycles, and suppress REM sleep. This can lead to light, restless sleep with nightmares once medications end, or “REM Withdrawl Sleep.”  Many individuals often return to these sleep aids, even the ones advertised as “non-habit forming,” and the cycle continues.  Medications can cause long-term harm to your body.  Additionally, they are expensive, and only treat the symptom of an underlying problem. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the symptoms of insomnia are the branches of a disease.  An imbalance in the body, usually Chi, blood, Yin, Yan, Jing, or Shen, or a major organ system (lung, liver, heart, spleen, kidney, or liver) causes the imbalance or dysfunction, and acupuncture treatments help realign the body’s systems and help you find balance once more.  Additional methods in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as herbs, may also help your body better process energy and achieve restful sleep. 

The following may lead to a lack of restful sleep:

The Body
Physical tension
Overeating, especially protein
Irregular sleeping hours
Lack of physical exercise
Dehydration
Menopause
Pain
Smoking
Alcoholism
Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
Sleep apnea (Associated with high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, emotional disturbances and even psychoses.) 

The Mind
Emotional or mental stress
Preoccupation
Overstimulation to the nervous system
TV/video game excess

The Environment
Lack of adequate ventilation; oxygen debt
Allergies – an increased heart rate follows exposure. 
Lights left on at night (disrupts the pineal gland producing melatonin, a sleep hormone)
Temperature extremes in bed
Poor mattress

Diet
Restless Sleepers may have excessive amounts of the following in their diets: 
Caffeine
Alcohol
Heavy metals (such as mercury found in high fructose corn syrup, tuna, swordfish, and mackerel
Salt, which increases blood volume, heart output, and blood pressure. 
Food additives, preservatives, and colorings
Refined carbohydrates, sugar, soda, ice cream or other sweets
Iodine

They may be deficient in:
Vitamin B  
Calcium
Lycopene (found in red and orange foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers)
Total carbohydrates
Protein
Vitamin C
Selenium (found in nuts, mushrooms, meat, and shellfish).  Selenium helps with inflammation.
Lutein (found in green, leafy vegetables)

Iron or copper (found in shellfish, clams, lentils, nuts, and whole-grain foods).  Deficiency may make it take longer to fall asleep, and sleep may be less refreshing.

The body converts tryptophan into seratonin, which is then converted into melatonin.  Both make you feel relaxed and sleepy.  Foods with tryptophan include bananas yogurt, dates, figs, warm milk, dairy, and turkey.  These foods are metabolized best in combination with starches, which make the body release insulin.  This pushes the amino acids except for tryptophan into the muscle cells, leaving the tryptophan alone in the blood stream and ready to go to the brain.  Niacin, a B-vitamin, makes tryptophan work more effectively, and is found in lean meats such as canned tuna.  Melatonin naturally exists in oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, bananas, and barley.  

Magnesium rich foods can also help you relax and have restful sleep.  Low magnesium levels will stimulate brain-activation neurotransmitters, which leads to overstimulation of the brain. This is especially common in the elderly taking meds that may block magnesium absorption.  Dried beans such as pinto and navy beans, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, and almonds are all rich in magnesium.

Folic acid in spinach, especially if muscle cramping or restless leg syndrome keeps you awake, are good additions to your diet. Inosytol enhances REM sleep

Avoid red meat, chocolate, ham, bacon, sausages, cheese, tomatoes, which contain the CNS stimulant tyramine.

Alcohol does not, in fact, help you get a good night’s sleep.  You may fall asleep easily, because alcohol turns off the hypocretin neurons which keep you awake, but it has a rebound effect and can wake you quickly.