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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three American adults has high blood pressure. This serious condition can lead to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, which are among the three leading causes of death in the US.

In many cases, following a healthy diet, exercising and refraining from smoking can significantly reduce blood pressure. A study reported in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that chiropractic may also help. In fact, the research suggests that a specific type of chiropractic adjustment may be able to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients just as well as two hypertension-lowering medications combined.

Dr. George Bakris and researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 50 patients who had stage 1 high blood pressure and evidence of a misaligned Atlas vertebra (the C-1 vertebra of the spine). For over 40 years, the association between hypertension and circulatory abnormalities in the region of the Atlas vertebra has been understood, though the effect of chiropractic adjustment on the condition had not been extensively studied. The researchers wanted to test their hypothesis that a realignment of the Atlas vertebra could lead to a long-term reduction in blood pressure.

Patients were screened for a misaligned Atlas by using a leg length test. When the Atlas is misaligned it results in a disparity in leg length, which can be seen by the heel position when the patient is lying down. If the Atlas is misaligned and the patient turns his or her head to one side or the other, the position of the heels will change. If there is no misalignment, the heels remain at the same level. A misalignment of the Atlas vertebrae does not necessarily cause pain, so it frequently goes undetected.  None of the patients in the study reported having felt neck pain.

Patients were referred to a chiropractor from the National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA), a group of specialist practitioners who do not do typical chiropractic adjustments, but who specialize in adjusting only the C-1 vertebra.

Before the beginning of the study period, participants had a paracervical skin temperature determination, pre-alignment craniocervical X-rays and postural analysis, in addition to being cleared of all blood pressure medications. Half the patients received an adjustment to the C-1 vertebra and the other half received a “sham” adjustment designed to simulate a C-1 adjustment so that the patient would be unaware of the difference. Participants had one assessment directly after the adjustment and another 8 weeks later.

The results of the experiment showed that the patients who had received the actual adjustment had their blood pressure reduced to the equivalent of taking two anti-hypertensive medications simultaneously. Both systolic and diastolic levels dropped by an average of 14 mm Hg and 8 mm Hg, respectively. These lower levels were maintained throughout the 8-week follow-up period. This change was not observed in the sham intervention group.

A larger study is being planned, but this evidence shows that in some cases chiropractic care may be helpful in lowering blood pressure without the use of drugs.

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