Improve Your Health with Medicinal Herbs

Lower blood pressure, ease menopause, improve memory and more

| August/September 1998

  • Ginkgo
  • Powdered turmeric rhizome
  • Boxwood
  • Black cohosh growing in Maine
  • Black cohosh spire
  • Black cohosh root
  • Garlic
  • Hawthorn berries
  • Hawthorn, attractive in the landscape

Modern science has made great strides in the prevention and treatment of heart disease; nevertheless, it is still the number one killer in the United States, accounting for about 600,000 deaths each year. A heart condition requires the attention of a qualified physician and is not something to take lightly or to attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to prevent the condition in the first place. Herbs can play a role in reducing your risk of heart disease when incorporated into a heart-smart health regime.

Fat-laden arteries

One of the signs of aging is arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries with loss of elasticity and restriction of blood flow through the body. One type of arteriosclerosis is atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits on and in arterial walls and a leading culprit in heart disease. Clogging of the coronary arteries, the small arteries that supply the tissues of the heart itself with oxygen and nutrients, can lead to chest pain (angina), congestive heart ­failure (inability of the heart to maintain the circulation of the blood through the body), and heart attack.

The fats that build up on artery walls are carried in the blood. Blood fats, or lipids, include cholesterol (both “bad” LDL and “good” HDL) and triglycerides. You can increase heart-protective HDL by stopping smoking (a good idea in any case), losing weight, and exercising. To lower total cholesterol, follow a diet low in calories and total fats, especially saturated fats, and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Your physician can help you evaluate other heart-disease risk factors such as heredity, age, gender, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, and stress. While there’s not much you can do about the first three factors, eating right, exercising, and managing stress are proven keys to a healthy heart. Furthermore, two herbs, garlic and hawthorn, can play a significant role in reducing your risk of atherosclerosis.

Two herbs, garlic and hawthorn, can play a significant role in ­reducing your risk of atherosclerosis 

Eating garlic (Allium sativum) lowers blood pressure and aids blood flow through the circulatory system by reducing the amount of fat in the blood and thinning it, which enables platelets (blood cells that normally aid in clotting) to move more freely. The sulfur compound allicin, the source of garlic’s familiar aroma, is responsible for these effects. It is formed by the reaction of alliin with the enzyme allinase when garlic is cut or bruised.

Between 1985 and 1995, twenty-eight controlled clinical studies examined the effect of garlic preparations on healthy people as well as those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, clogged arteries, and other conditions. Blood fat-regulating ­effects, including decreases in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels, and increases in HDL, were recorded. Taken together, the studies showed an average 10.3 percent decrease in total cholesterol and a 14.3 percent decrease in triglycerides. A dose of 600 to 900 mg of garlic powder containing 3.6 to 5.4 mg of allicin was recommended to lower blood fats significantly. In eight of the studies, blood pressure decreased by an average 7 to 9 percent after one to six months of treatment. Persons with marginally high blood pressure showed the greatest change; those with normal blood pressure had no change.

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