One might imagine that if someone were sticking needles in your body that your blood pressure would go up.

But, a recent study on the effects of acupuncture and high blood pressure demonstrated that the exact opposite can happen.

Indeed, acupuncture needles placed in the right points on the body can significantly lower blood pressure and these results persist over time.

Acupuncture is a very old medical therapy and has been a part of traditional Oriental medicine for thousands of years. It involves the placement of small, very thin needles into specific points throughout the body.

Specific locations of these acupuncture points have been well described for many different illnesses. In traditional Oriental medicine all illness is the result of improper energy flow. There is either not enough energy, too much energy or the energy isn't moving. It is stagnating.

Inserting needles at various acupuncture points and leaving them there for a period of time stimulates the proper flow of energy. Where the energy is flowing well, illness cannot exist.

Hypertension affects approximately one billion people worldwide. It is so prevalent in the United States that almost one-third of Americans have high blood pressure. The risk of developing high blood pressure, over a lifetime, is an astounding 90 percent.

In 2008, the estimated cost of hypertension was $70 billion and is still rising. Most people with high blood pressure are treated with various medications. Some people may need three or four different medications to lower their blood pressure.

All of these medications have side effects and some of them are significant. It is well known that lifestyle changes such as exercise, stress reduction, diet and sleep can have a dramatic effect on lowering blood pressure all without serious side effects. The data for acupuncture and high blood pressure is also positive with a remarkably low side effect profile.

A recent study conducted at the Susan-Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California -- Irvine was able to use a specific set acupuncture points for the treatment of high blood pressure.

Sixty five individuals with mild to moderate high blood pressure were enrolled in the study. They were divided into two groups, one group received acupuncture specific for high blood pressure and the other receiving acupuncture not related to blood pressure.

The results revealed that acupuncture can significantly lower blood pressure in individuals with mild to moderate high blood pressure. It took about a month before there was significant reduction in blood pressure, but the reductions in blood pressure persisted after the acupuncture sessions were completed.

The study also measured chemicals such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, aldosterone and renin both before and after acupuncture therapy. High blood levels of these chemicals are associated with high blood pressure.

In the active acupuncture group, blood levels of these hormones also diminished corresponding with a reduction in high blood pressure.

About 70 percent of people with high blood pressure will respond well to acupuncture. It is a safe and simple procedure that may help to reduce the need for medications.

• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.