Heart disease is still the number-one killer in the United States. Modern science has made great strides in the medical prevention, management and treatment of heart disease. And, yes, herbs can help. However, heart disease cannot be self-diagnosed or self-treated. It takes a medical specialist to deal with the serious medical problems of heart disease.
High cholesterol levels are often associated with the thickening of arteries that deprive the heart muscle of blood. This process can lead to angina pectoris, myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death.
Both men and women are subject to risk of coronary heart disease induced by high cholesterol. When it comes to lowering cholesterol below the risk benchmark of 200 mg/dl, the ratio of low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) to high-density lipoproteins (“good” cholesterol) is very important.
Your health-care professional will conduct blood tests to determine your cholesterol levels and recommend any course of treatment. Garlic and hawthorn may help, but you should consult your health-care practitioner before using them.
Garlic is the best-known herb for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, lowering blood pressure, and thinning the blood (much like aspirin). It is believed to reduce the fat in the blood that collects on cell walls and reduce the stickiness of blood platelets so that they can move more freely. Between 1985 and 1995, twenty-eight controlled clinical studies were published on garlic preparations. Eight studies looked at garlic’s effect on blood lipids. Of those studies, five showed statistically significant reductions in cholesterol; one noted a tendency toward reduction of blood lipids; and two reported an insignificant decrease. Garlic is often prescribed in Germany for patients who prefer natural herbal preparations over synthetic drugs. Garlic is also much cheaper than drugs.
How to take it: Standardized products are generally equivalent to eating about four average fresh garlic cloves a day. Reviewers of clinical studies conclude that a significant cholesterol or blood-lipid-lowering effect can be achieved with a dose of 600 to 900 mg of garlic powder, containing 3.6 to 5.4 mg of allicin, a sulfur compound in garlic. This dose can be taken in either capsules or tablets.
Hawthorn consists of extracts of the leaves and flowers of English hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) and one-seeded hawthorn (C. monogyna). Hawthorn preparations are prescribed by physicians in Germany for the treatment of diminished heart performance at the early stages of congestive heart failure, for angina pectoris, and for help in long-term recovery from heart attacks. Hawthorn also helps to reduce pressure or anxiety in the heart area, age-related heart problems not requiring digitalis, and mild forms of arrhythmias.
Pharmacological and clinical studies have shown that hawthorn helps increase the heart’s efficiency by increasing the blood supply to the heart muscle itself and by strengthening contractions. The heart is then able to pump more blood to the rest of the body; at the same time it also helps to dilate blood vessels. Hawthorn has been shown to improve circulation to the extremities by helping to reduce arterial resistance. No side effects or contraindications are reported for hawthorn. From 1981 to 1996 fourteen controlled clinical studies have been published on the use of hawthorn extracts in over 800 patients, with nearly every study showing clinical effectiveness.
How to take it: Hawthorn must be used for at least six weeks before results can be expected. Use under a physician’s supervision. Doses range between 160 to 900 mg per day of an extract calculated to deliver 4 to 20 mg of flavonoids and/or 30 to 160 mg of oligomeric procyanidins.
Steven Foster is an authority on medicinal herbs, and the author of many books, including Steven Foster’s Guide to Herbal Dosages (Interweave Press, 1999).
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