Health and Human Performance Professor Helps Shed New Light on Acupuncture and Hypertension

Dr. Alexei Wong, Marymount assistant professor of Health & Human Performance, is part of a four-member international team* that recently published research on a clinical study on acupuncture (ACU) as an effective intervention in the treatment of hypertensive middle-aged adults. Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is considered the most important factor in premature cardiovascular disease, affecting some one billion people worldwide.

Results from prior studies examining acupuncture in the treatment of high blood pressure were ambiguous, said Wong. “Our team’s study was the first time aortic pressure measurement has been studied with acupuncture, and is actually a better predictor of cardiovascular strain than blood pressure taken at the arm (brachial). Our results bore out that acupuncture caused improvements in both brachial blood pressure and central aortic blood pressure. Acupuncture therapy decreased blood pressure in the aorta and if the pressure on the aorta is less, there is less strain on the heart.”

Wong collaborated with a colleague from Magnitogorsk, Russia, Dr. Nina Terenteva (Department of Industrial Ecology and Life Safety, Nosov Magnitogorsk State Technical University), who conducted the study at her clinic with non-smoking middle-aged adults. (47-63). Each of the 45 participants (18 men and 27 women) were categorized as overweight by BMI (Body Mass Index) and diagnosed with hypertension by a physician prior to the study, though none had been previously diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

Each participant in the ACU group had three acupuncture treatments per week, with needles in both their arms and legs, for eight consecutive weeks. The control group, which did not receive acupuncture or undertake any lifestyle changes, showed no change in blood pressure at the conclusion of the two-month period, Wong noted. (Once the study was completed, the control group was offered eight weeks of acupuncture therapy.)

“The ACU group measured beneficial reductions of aortic hemodynamics as well as arterial stiffness,” Wong assessed, “which means acupuncture can decrease cardiovascular risk, especially in this population.”

The team is moving toward further clinical research, focusing on another study group of the same age who have been diagnosed with both hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Wong explained, “Hypertension medications might decrease blood pressure in the arm, but some of them don’t decrease pressure in the aorta, and our results show acupuncture does.”

Born in the Ukraine to his Russian mother and Cuban father, Wong was raised in Cuba but then moved with his family to Florida after high school. He earned a B.S. in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida. His advanced degrees, an M.S. from Florida International University and the Ph.D. from Florida State University, are both in the field of Exercise Physiology.

Playing baseball in Cuba served Wong well as a recent master’s graduate who worked as a strength and conditioning coach with the minor league program for the Washington Nationals.

“It was a great experience,” said the professor. “A few of the players I coached eventually made it up the ranks to an MLB team.”

In 2015, during summer break from his teaching post at the University of Puerto Rico, he visited the Washington D.C. area where his girlfriend, now his wife, lived. Wong pursued and was offered a faculty position with Marymount’s Department of Health and Human Performance, joining the faculty that fall.

* Terenteva and Wong worked with Dr. Oksana Chernykh, Department of Economics and Management, Moscow Financial and Law University, Moscow; and Dr. Marcos A. Sanchez-Gonzalez, Division of Clinical & Translational Research, Larkin Community Hospital, South Miami, Florida.