Although the earliest stages of atherosclerosis appear much earlier in life, symptoms and signs of cardiovascular disease usually don’t surface until the fifth decade. About this time, annual screening tests may reveal elevations in blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammatory markers (linked to cardiovascular and other diseases), and blood sugar levels (bad for the arteries and a sign of diabetes).
Herbal expert James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy Anti-Aging Prescriptions (Rodale, 2001) and other books, says his favorite herb for the heart is hawthorn. Because he grows hawthorn trees on his property, he enjoys walking into the late summer sunshine and nibbling the fruits, which look like a cross between crabapples and rose hips. Mars notes that scientific research shows that extracts of the flavonoid-rich fruits, leaves and flowers strengthen the capillaries, dilate the arteries, lower blood pressure, strengthen the heart’s contractions, stabilize heart rhythm and lower cholesterol. A 2008 review of 14 trials in which hawthorn extracts were used as adjunct therapy for congestive heart failure found that this gentle, safe herb provided “significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes.” You can take hawthorn as a tea, jam, syrup, tincture or tablet.
Other food herbs known to improve cardiovascular health include garlic, shiitake mushrooms, oats, cayenne, cinnamon, flax seeds and green tea. According to McQuade Crawford, “Populations that regularly consume green tea as a beverage rather than as a pill have a lower incidence of degenerative disease.” When Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, spoke at the World Tea Expo in Boston in fall 2009, he highlighted research showing that green tea helps prevent cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. He drinks three to five cups a day.
While men are initially at greater risk for heart disease, women catch up as their estrogen levels dwindle. But before estrogen levels noticeably drop, the ovaries stop making progesterone, a female hormone that, among other activities, regulates the menstrual cycle. Without it, cycles may shorten or lengthen, often with heavier bleeding. Chaste tree berry extracts, which promote progesterone, can help.
Once waning estrogen levels trigger hot flashes and night sweats, it may be time to pull out the black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa). While several studies have shown that standardized extracts of this plant reduce menopausal symptoms, a 2006 American study that compared estrogen, black cohosh, a multibotanical formula (plus or minus soy) and a placebo found that only estrogen significantly alleviated symptoms. Bothwell says, “I find black cohosh alone to be effective for some women, but get more consistent results using it in formula with other herbs.”
Menopause Tincture Formula
• 2 parts black cohosh root
• 1 part oats tops and straw
• 1 part motherwort
• 1 part nettle leaves
• 1 part dandelion root
• 1 part hawthorn berries and leaves
1. Combine all tinctures and shake well to blend.
2. Take 1⁄4 teaspoon 2 to 4 times a day as needed.
Linda B. White, M.D., teaches classes in herbal medicine at Metropolitan State College in Denver. She also co-authored The Herbal Drugstore (Rodale, 2000).
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Herbs for Life: Essential Herbs for Every Age
• Herbs for Teens and Young Adults
• Herbs for the Mid-20s to Early 40s
• Herbs for the Mid-50s and Up