Exploring Heart Rate Variability as a Biomedical Diagnostic Tool for the Disympathetic Dimension of Eight-Constitution Medicine

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, 2021, pp. 6613798
Issue Date:
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Eight-Constitution Medicine (ECM), an extension of Traditional Korean Medicine, divides the population into eight groups based on their physiological characteristics. ECM divides these eight groups into two larger groups based on autonomic reactivity: the Sympathicotonic group and the Vagotonic group (herein referred to as the Disympathetic Dimension). Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a widely used biomedical tool to assess cardiac autonomic function. This raises the question of the utility of using HRV to correctly diagnose ECM constitutions.


A systematic literature review was conducted to evaluate the correlation between HRV and constitutions in Korean Constitutional Medicine, including Eight-Constitution Medicine (ECM) and Sasang Constitution Medicine (SCM). The articles were obtained from both English (Scopus, PubMed, EMBASE, ProQuest, and Medline) and Korean databases (NDSL and RISS), in addition to Google Scholar, without date restriction. 20 studies met the inclusion criteria, and data were extracted against three aspects: (1) correlation between HRV and constitution, (2) HRV reporting and interpretation, and (3) extraneous factors that were controlled in the studies.


386 articles were initially identified, which was reduced to n = 20 studies which met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 19 were SCM studies and 1 was an ECM study. Sample sizes varied from 10 to 8498 men and women, with an age range of 10-80 years. SCM studies explored HRV differences by constitution, measuring HRV at resting, with controlled breathing, before and after acupuncture stimulation, and by other interventions. SCM studies reported either no significant differences (HRV at resting or with controlled breathing studies) or conflicting data (HRV with acupuncture stimulation studies). The single ECM study measured HRV at resting and after acupuncture stimulation but reported no significant differences between the two groups of Sympathicotonia and Vagotonia.


Due to inconsistencies in study design, study population, and measures of HRV, there was no consistency in the data to support the use of HRV as a biomedical determinant of ECM constitutions.
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