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Copyright 2013 Natural Standard (
March 2012

Does Acupuncture Affect Heart Rate Variability?

A new study suggests that acupuncture may affect heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is defined as changes in the duration of consecutive cardiac cycles (heartbeats). Cardiac cycles may be measured by electrocardiography (ECG), which produces an electrocardiogram (EKG, for "Electrokardiogramm" in German). On an EKG, the pattern of a cardiac cycle has four major parts: a P wave (which represents the electrical vector spreading from the right atrium to the left atrium during atrial depolarization), a QRS complex (which represents depolarization of the right and left ventricles), a T wave (which represents repolarization of the ventricles), and a U wave (which represents repolarization of the papillary muscles). HRV is measured as the variation in duration between the R peaks on the QRS complexes between consecutive cardiac cycles. Other names for HRV include RR variability, RR period, cycle length variability and heart period variability.

In a new study, researchers evaluated the effects of acupuncture on HRV in 40 patients with a variety of conditions, including insomnia, stomach disorders and lower back pain. Acupuncture was administered at various acupoints and HRV was measured before, during and after treatment.

The researchers found that acupuncture caused a 41 percent reduction in the standard deviation of HRV. Furthermore, acupuncture reduced variability without altering either the heart rate or the low to high frequency ratio. According to the study authors, this suggests that acupuncture may alter the functioning of the human body.

Additional research is necessary to further understand these findings.

The practice of acupuncture originated in China 5,000 years ago. Today it is widely used throughout the world and is one of the main pillars of Chinese medicine.

There are many different varieties of the practice of acupuncture, both in the Orient and in the West. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs. Classical acupuncture (also known as five element acupuncture) uses a different needling technique and relies on acupuncture independent of the use of herbs. Japanese acupuncture uses smaller needles than the other varieties. Medical acupuncture refers to acupuncture practiced by a conventional medical doctor. Auricular acupuncture treats the entire body through acupuncture points in the ears only. Electroacupuncture uses electrical currents attached to acupuncture needles.

For more information about acupuncture, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.


  1. Fasmer OB, Liao H, Huang Y, et al. A naturalistic study of the effect of acupuncture on heart-rate variability. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2012 Feb;5(1):15-20. View Abstract
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
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