February was American Heart Month! Statistics warn us heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is responsible for one of every four deaths in this country. Luckily, natural medicine can help you to manage and mitigate the risk factors by improving the health of your heart right now.
Risk for heart disease goes up with age, as well as a few other factors such as smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (as a marker). Genetic pre-disposition plays a role in risk for heart disease – family history is one of the best indicators for possible heart conditions. If your parents, grandparents, or other relatives were afflicted with heart disease, this article is especially for you.
In natural medicine we advocate preventative medicine to maintain the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Our heart pumps the blood throughout the body that warms and nourishes the organs and tissues, transports nutrients, wastes, cells and hormones, and protects the body against disease. As if it’s physical responsibilities aren’t enough, the heart also functions to regulate our emotions and maintain our personal and social connections. Heart health reflects quality of life and happiness, so improving our emotional well-being is very important.
There are a variety of choices in natural medicine if you are looking to improve your heart health.
Natural Medicine Can Help You To:
- Manage your blood pressure: High blood pressure causes scarred arteries that fill up with plaque and become more prone to blood clots, possibly leading to atherosclerosis, stroke or heart attack. Scientific evidence indicates that a diet that is low in saturated fat and salt and rich in complex carbohydrates (vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits), increased physical activity, and regular practice of relaxation techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong, can help to lower high blood pressure. In a recent study, acupuncture facilitated a significant reduction in blood pressure and reduced the patient’s other complaints.
- Manage cholesterol: If you have high cholesterol, it’s seen as a marker for dangerous inflammation in your system that could lead to heart problems. Taking drugs to reduce cholesterol levels does nothing to eliminate the dangerous cause. A natural drop in cholesterol happens only when a person stops eating toxic foods, and starts exercising properly and/or taking the proper supplements (see below).
- Eat a diet healthy for your heart: Foods that cause inflammation should be avoided to best reduce long-term disease risks for cardiovascular disease. Dr. Andrew Weil has created an Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, including serving amounts, sizes and healthy choices of foods that fight inflammation. Obesity is a major risk factory for heart disease. Managing caloric intake is good advice – stop eating before you are full to avoid consuming more calories than your body requires. At the Wholeness Center, our naturopathic doctors can help you design a diet and supplement regimen perfect for your individual needs.
- Exercise: Something as simple as adding a 30 minute a day walking regimen can have a large effect on our cardiovascular health. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the 5 major risk factors (along with high blood pressure, abnormal values for blood lipids, smoking, and obesity) for cardiovascular disease, as outlined by the AHA (American Heart Association).
- Take supplements:
– Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, plays an important role in cellular energy production. Levels of this cofactor tend to decline with age. Because the heart is the hardest-working muscle of all, it’s essential that the heart has access to a constant supply of CoQ10 so it can readily generate the energy required to do its vital work.
– Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Heart disease is often linked to atherosclerosis, inflammation in the lining of the blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that help reduce inflammation and reduce levels of triglycerides, which are linked to atherosclerosis and diabetes.
– Antioxidants: Antioxidants protect the body’s cells from damage. Resveratrol, a plant polyphenol, helps reduce inflammation, prevents the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol, and makes it more difficult for platelets to stick together and form the clots that can lead to a heart attack, stroke or increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Resveratrol is high in red wine, a possible reason the French have a lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease despite their high fat diet.
– B-Vitamins: Blood levels of homocysteine (a marker for increased risk of cardiovascular disease) tend to be highest in people who eat a lot of animal protein and consume few fruits and leafy vegetables, which provide the folic acid and other B vitamins that help the body rid itself of homocysteine. Supplementing with Vitamin B can help keep homocysteine levels in check. Other contributors to elevated homocysteine levels include stress and coffee consumption.
– Vitamin D: A growing number of studies point to Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attacks, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), strokes, and the conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
– Green Tea: A number of studies have shown green tea to be preventative against cardiovascular disease and stroke. A 2011 meta-analysis of 14 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials found that green tea significantly lowered LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Quit smoking if you smoke: About 20% of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to cigarette smoking. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. Acupuncture is one of many natural therapies that can help you quit smoking. It reduces cravings, irritability, and also aids in detoxification. A recent study confirms that adequate acupuncture treatment may help motivated smokers to reduce their smoking, or even quit smoking completely, and the effect may last for at least 5 years.
- Manage Stress and Emotional Wellness: Stress is a major problem in the modern world. Since our heart is also our emotional center, maintaining a healthy mood and emotional balance, as well as staying connected socially is of vital importance. When we are stressed or depressed, we produce more stress hormones like cortisol, which causes unhealthy physiological changes in the cardiovascular system. People with depression but no previously detected heart disease seem to develop heart disease at a higher rate than the general population. Meditation has been shown in numerous studies to lower stress levels and their biological markers such as cortisol levels. African Americans with heart disease who practiced meditation regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from all causes. It also served to lower their blood pressure, stress, and subjective anger levels.
At the Wholeness Center, we specialize in mind-body interventions for stress management, such as neurofeedback, acupuncture, botanical medicine, meditation and yoga instruction, and massage. Call 970-221-1106 for more information or to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Erin D. Michos, Assistant Professor of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins Hospital (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/vitamin_d_and_the_heart.html)
Dr. Roy C. Ziegelstein, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/depression_heart_disease.html)