High Blood Pressure – Hypertension

woman with high blood pressure

How might Chinese medicine explain high blood pressure – hypertension? 

You have to remember that acupuncture is part of a cultural and health way of life, developed over probably 3000 years.

It’s not just a few pins stuck in you! We ignore all that accumulated know-how at our peril.

For instance, if Chinese medicine has found certain foods make things worse but we continue to eat them while getting the best treatment for our problem, who are we fooling?

Aren’t we throwing away our money and time? Acupuncture therefore comes with advice about how to improve oneself! Ignoring this means treatment will, at best, be less effective.

Just as in Western medicine, your doctor gives you advice on how to change your habits for better help, so does Chinese medicine: it’s just had probably an extra 2800 years to consider things.

Yin and Yang and Hypertension

Signs of High Blood Pressure

Signs that might suggest to your doctor that you have hypertension include:

  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • nosebleeds
  • palpitations
  • insomnia
  • dizziness


But many people with hypertension have no symptoms. Until someone takes your blood pressure you don’t know you have it!

What worries doctors is that high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems. Over time HBP puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels, potentially damaging delicate tissues such as your kidneys and eyes. Eventually this may lead to coronary artery disease including stroke and heart attack.

Measures for hypertension

You take your blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer. It gives you two readings, a higher (the ‘systolic’) and a lower (the ‘diastolic’). It may also give you your pulse rate.

Normal BP readings

Supposedly, in young healthy people the figures are 120/80.

Those are average, which means a lot of healthy people have higher figures and a lot of healthy people have lower figures.

Vigorous exercise requires faster blood circulation to feed oxygen to the tissues so your heart beats faster and harder, raising the blood pressure. Take your reading well after taking exercise, by when your body and its blood pressure have reverted to ‘normal’. 

What is considered High Blood Pressure?

Various factors affect the reading, including:

  • As you age, your circulation tends to stiffen up, so the heart must push harder to get the blood round. To do this, it exerts more pressure so the figures increase, for example to 130/85 or 135/90, or more. In general, the higher the readings the greater the risk.
  • The ambient temperature and how warm you are
  • Digesting a large meal
  • Medications you are taking
  • How stressed your body is by physical or mental factors


Doctors in different countries rate danger from high blood pressure differently.

In some countries they start prescribing medication when your reading exceeds 125/85.

In other countries they start to worry only if it exceeds 130/90 – or more.

To avoid the ‘white coat’ syndrome, when your BP increases at the sight of a white coat or doctor, you can wear a continuous monitor for 24 hours during which it periodically tightens a cuff on your arm and takes a reading, even during sleep.


What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Western medicine often diagnoses these causes:

  • Adrenal gland problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines that have a highly stimulating effect
  • Sleep apnea
  • Various prescribed medications
  • Some OTC medications such as for colds, nasal congested and pain


The above cause ‘Secondary‘ hypertension.

‘Primary’ hypertension is when doctors cannot account for it.

Apparently in some 90% of people there are no obvious medical causes but Western medicine does recognise that blood pressure often increases as you age. (Which makes rather a nonsense of using the average ‘healthy’ readings of 120/80 for older people!)

How Chinese Medicine Explains It

As this site aims to explain Chinese medicine in English, let’s get down to basics!

What are the basics? Yin and Yang.

This is the main basic theory behind Chinese medicine and definitely behind acupuncture.

What Can Yin and Yang Offer Man?

Yin is consolidating, nourishing, cooling and resting, as compared with yang which is exploring, warming, inspiring and moving.

If your BP is high, for some reason

  • either your yang is too high, predominant; 
  • or your yin is to low, deficient. (For example, your Blood could be deficient, as found in some women with amennorhoea or anaemia)
  • Or both!
  • Plus, for example, your yin is too thick, which translates as your Blood is stagnant, not moving properly, harder to push, requiring more pressure
  • Yin being too thick could also come from what are called Damp and/or Phlegm, which obstruct the free movement of Qi
  • The structure of your body (another example of your yin reserves) is out of balance, causing blockages impeding the flow of Qi and Blood. This imbalance might have come from bad posture, accidents, surgery, prolonged stress or congenital problems


Too much yang and/or not enough yin could happen for many reasons, but two obvious examples are lifestyle and stress – either currently or in the past.

Other important factors are what we eat and how we eat it, and the effect of ageing, which affects our circulatory system and Blood. For more on these, see below.

One way of looking at stress is through the Chinese concept of Qi.

Qi often spelled Ch’i or Chi (pronounced ‘TCHEE!’)

In health, qi moves smoothly and while we rely on it to live we don’t really notice it.

HBP and Stress

We do notice it when qi ‘stagnates’ or gets blocked up. What we feel we describe as stress, and in Chinese medicine a way of explaining this is via ‘qi stagnation‘.

Qi Stagnation and Stress: what to do to relieve stress.

This blocks the easy flow and interaction between yin and yang, leading to a kind of pressure or heat. That increases yang and over time may decrease yin as we use up our yin resources to balance and contain our ‘excess’ yang.

So you get symptoms of yang excess and/or yin deficiency.

Blood and Blood Stasis

In practice, what happens involves the Chinese concept of Blood and can lead to more complicated ‘syndromes‘ such as  Blood stagnation, or Liver-Blood Deficiency or Blood-Heat.

But that’s when things get more serious. They get harder to cure by yourself. In these situations you will need treatment.

You Probably have Blood Stasis! What to do about it?

Acupuncture is based on qi flowing along acupuncture channels or meridians. Acupuncture points on the channels affect how qi flows along them. When qi runs smoothly, life flows easily between yin and yang.

There are many ways of treating excess yang or deficient yin.

(By the way, is all this yin-yangery turning your brain to mush? Hold on! In a few seconds you’ll see how it applies to Western medicine!)

As yin and yang return to balance, so does your problem – in this case – hypertension.

Western Medicine, HBP, Yin and Yang

Without knowing it, Western medicine uses exactly the same protocol as Chinese medicine!

For example, you take

  • beta-blockers to calm you down (ie to reduce yang) or
  • nutrition or supplements to benefit yin (to reduce deficiency of yin) or
  • blood de-agglutinating medicines to reduce Blood stagnation:
  • you are taught ways to control your mind – to ‘stress’ less (eg meditation, which helps you mind balance its yin and yang forces)
  • and you are told to take more exercise (exercise is one of the best ways to move qi, reducing qi stagnation thereby reducing stress and yin/yang imbalance)


I hope this makes sense!

The yin-yang theory applies whatever one’s circumstances or health problem, not just HBP, but of course how acupuncture and Chinese thinking might apply to you and your health problem would be much more detailed and would depend on your situation and health.

How to Lower Blood Pressure

Head points can help in acupuncture for depresssion
Photo copyright by acupuncture-points.org

Using acupuncture, there are techniques and points 

  • at the top of your body and head – that send yang down
  • further down your body – that strengthen yin
  • to move or release blood stagnation
  • to clear blockages
  • that calm your mind and help you relax
  • to help your body regain a healthy structural shape so qi and blood can flow smoothly


Lifestyle to lower Hypertension

Stress is part of life, often demanding and challenging. It excites us if we enjoy rising to the challenge.

Too much wears us down, exhausting us (yin becomes deficient) and we get stuck into a yang excess-over-yin condition.

Too little and we get bored, slow down, do nothing, get unfit, develop Blood stasis and argue with one another.

What to do? Here are just a few ideas, using yin and yang – but you’ll soon see that they mirror ideas from Western medicine!

Ideally you should improve

Exeercise assists Damp Clearing foods and often improves  hypertension
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash
  • exercise – preferably enjoyable, out of doors, making you  physically tired but not exhausted
  • your diet and nutrition (more on this below)
  • who you spend time with
  • what you do with your body
  • what you do with your mind
  • how you work and whether you work towards what you want in life
  • where you work and live
  • when you work and when you don’t


Easy – eh?!

High Blood Pressure Diet

By high blood pressure diet we mean nutrition and diet that help alleviate high blood pressure.

Chinese medicine has thousands of years of experience with diet and nutrition. Western medicine ‘discovered’ HBP really only 200 years ago – see History of Blood Pressure.

So Chinese medicine didn’t know about it until comparatively recently, but they certainly recognised the health problems that accompanied and led to it and so treated those.

One of the most important ways we can help ourselves is with nutrition, a big subject in Chinese medicine. Food, after all, should be our first medicine.

I urge you to read that linked page on nutrition.

Take note of every word! Don’t skip past the bits about how you eat. They may be the most important bits, for you.

What foods affect blood pressure?

And if you wonder which foods tend to increase yang (which, with HBP you don’t want) read our page on ‘heating’ foods. In general, reducing these will tend to help.

If only that were all there is to it!

For chilly people, living in cold conditions, their blood may be ‘stagnating’ and if so, cooling foods would be non-conducive.

So, right away, you run into a problem: what kind of body do you have?

  • The ‘hot’ type which tends towards excess yang (as in Liver-Yang or Liver-Fire)? – or
  • The ‘cold’ type which tends towards blocked yin (which could include structural problems too)?
  • Or maybe you’re the deficient yin type?


So without going any further into the high blood pressure diet, one may say that:

Red Chilli Peppers
Fiery hot chilli peppers © Loic Giraud
Dreamstime Stock Photos


If you want more suggestions for a diet that is more specific to your particular needs, you need to do more reading, and you need to be prepared to make some changes to what you prepare and eat.

Acupuncturist taking the case
Acupuncture consultation

Then discuss it with an experienced practitioner of Chinese medicine, such as an acupuncturist or herbalist.



Jonathan Brand colours

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