Several studies confirm that acupuncture can help with heart problems such as high blood pressure, angina and even heart failure.
One way that acupuncture works for physical heart health is that is helps the body to relax deeply and get out of what is called sympathetic nervous system dominance. The sympathetic nervous system response to stress is also known as "fight or flight." Being in fight or flight mode is detrimental to heart function as it increases blood pressure and heart rate. This study, as well as this study show that acupuncture can help calm this fight or flight response.
However, there is a lesser known way that acupuncture can improve heart health...and it has to do with emotions.
According to the ancient theories of Chinese medicine, the heart is the supreme ruler, or the emperor, of the body. It governs blood and blood vessels, just like in western medicine. However, the heart also notably presides over something called "Shen." Shen loosely translates into "spirit" or "mind." It is said that the Shen rules all mental activities, consciousness, mental health and even our presence. According to Chinese medicine, you can detect Shen in someone's eyes, which will be bright and shiny when the Shen is healthy. It is also said that the Shen comes out during the day and then retires at night into the heart. So, if the Shen is unhealthy or disturbed in some way this can produce problems with sleep. Another common Shen presentation I see in my clinic is anxiety.
The signs of disturbed Shen in Chinese medicine are typically insomnia, restlessness, feelings of the heart pounding or racing (palpitations), anxiety, unclear or disturbed thoughts, nightmares, poor memory and even mania and delirium when at an extreme.
Acupuncture treatments to help the Shen are focused on bringing peace and calming to the body and mind. Acupuncture points are often used on the head, on the ears or on the inner arm (the heart meridian) to help soothe and calm the Shen.