Herbs for Heart Health

The best natural remedies for heart disease.

| November/December 2002

  • A diet high in fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Garlic is a beneficial (and tasty) herb for treating hypertension. Studies have shown that garlic reduces blood pressure levels by about 5 percent to 10 percent.
  • Green tea has been shown to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
  • Hawthorn is a popular remedy for a variety of heart conditions.

Heart disease is the nation’s top killer. The American Heart Association says that 1.5 million Americans will suffer heart attacks this year. The good news is that protective measures can dramatically reduce the threat. Men and women of all ages get heart disease. Genetics play a large role in this disease, but modern lifestyles are also laden with risk factors.

High blood pressure is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. One in five American adults has it. Usually, sufferers—those with blood pressure consistently above 150/90—can’t feel when their blood pressure is running high. More than 90 percent of high blood pressure patients have no obvious damage or disease. But what you don’t know can hurt you.

Called the “silent killer,” elevated blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to a dangerously increased risk of heart attack and stroke and is one of the most significant causes of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). When blood vessels are exposed to chronically extreme high pressure, their linings become injured—the inauguration of the unhealthy changes of atherosclerosis. Although it is important to normalize your blood pressure in a purposeful manner, under most circumstances, you have plenty of time to bring it down. Just don’t ignore it. Given enough time, hypertension can damage virtually every organ in your body.

Dead in a heartbeat

Atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls, contributes to high blood pressure and heart muscle degeneration. Fatty deposits and loss of elasticity narrow blood vessels and raise pressure. The high pressure continues to damage blood vessels, creating the vicious cycle of coronary artery disease. Numerous studies have linked higher blood low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) levels with higher rates of coronary heart disease. Oxidized LDL can become incorporated into the arterial plaque. High-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), by contrast, protects us by transporting cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s excreted.

The heart, of course, is the stuff of verse. But you may not feel so poetic if you have a heart attack. With lowered coronary blood flow comes reduced heart efficiency and angina pectoris pain. A clot creates an obstruction, or atherosclerosis creates a narrowing, impeding blood flow to the heart muscle downstream—heart-attack time. This death of heart muscle cells is called myocardial infarction.

The evening news extols the latest medical treatments for atherosclerosis, and honestly, many of these treatments work quite well. Drugs and surgery are frequently lifesaving. But what about preventing the crisis before it gets to the stage that needs these emergency measures? And the side effects? The foremost class of cholesterol-reducing drugs, the “statins,” has been implicated as the cause of rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which the skeletal muscle degenerates, resulting in pain, spasm, and weakness.

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