Take Time for Your Ticker: Heart Healthy Tips

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Your cardiovascular system (your heart and blood vessels) serves as an essential transport system for oxygen, hormones, and nutrients. The symbolic center of life, vitality, and emotion, your ticker demands TLC. Heart disease is both common and deadly, accounting for one in every four deaths in the United States. A healthy diet, good lifestyle habits, and key medicinal herbs and functional foods can help keep everything flowing smoothly.

Heart-Healthy Diet & Lifestyle

You can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease with a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and not smoking. A Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fish and seafood, fruit, fiber-rich whole foods like beans, nuts, and whole grains, and healthy fats including olive oil and avocados helps decrease oxidative damage and inflammation in the cardiovascular system while providing important fats, minerals, and phytochemicals. Limit sodium (especially from processed, restaurant, and fast foods) and use animal products as flavor-enhancing condiments rather than a meal’s mainstay, opting for grass-fed, pasture-raised alternatives. Do your best to keep your blood sugar and body weight in check. Consider herbs. 

Herbs for a Healthy Heart

The following can be useful tonics for overall heart health and circulation. However, they may interact with some medications. Consult your healthcare practitioner.

Hawthorn

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) berries, leaves, and flowers act as a heart tonic when consumed in regular doses over time. Hawthorn decreases oxidative damage and inflammation, reduces blood pressure, modestly reduces cholesterol, dilates blood vessels, improves oxygen utilization, strengthens the structure and function of the heart, and reduces blood stickiness (also known as platelet aggregation). It also helps with healing from cardiovascular events, improves heart rhythm, reduces chest pain and angina, strengthens the heart in congestive heart failure, and helps achieve and maintain smooth blood vessel lining. Try it as a solid extract, standardized capsule, liquid extract, tea, or low/no-sugar jam.

Gotu kola

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) leaf improves circulation as well as the integrity of blood vessel lining. Several studies support its ability to allay chronic venous insufficiency. Gotu kola also acts as an adaptogen, reducing the effects of stress, calming anxiety, and improving cognition and brain function. Look for organic products in pill, tea, liquid extract, juice, or food form.

Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) bulb modestly reduces blood pressure and cholesterol while acting as a general cardiovascular tonic. A classic “blood mover,” it helps reduce inflammation and increase circulation by thinning the blood and decreasing plaque formation and blood stickiness, clots, and coagulation. Eat one or more cloves daily or take it in pill form. If you detest garlic breath, you may want to try aged garlic extract or other odor-free forms.

Blue-Red Pigments

Blue-Red Pigments such as anthocyanidins, phenols, and flavonoids from berries, dark purple grapes (including juice and red wine), pomegranate, and hibiscus flower calyxes have a broad tonic effect on the cardiovascular system, fighting both inflammation and oxidative stress while improving the integrity and flexibility of the blood vessel lining. In studies, consuming several cups of hibiscus tea (using 10 to 20 grams of dried herb daily) lowered blood pressure as well as several common pharmaceuticals. Consume blue-red pigments regularly as food, pure juice (check ingredients to avoid sugary filler juices), tea, or supplements.

 

Sources: 

“Effect of crataegus usage in cardiovascular disease prevention: An evidence-based approach” by J. Wang et al., 2/29/13;

“A systematic review of the efficacy of Centella asiatica for improvement of the signs and symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency” by N.J. Chong and Z. Aziz, 2/21/13 Evid Based Complement Alternat Med,12/29/13   

“Effect of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) on arterial hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” by C. Serban et al., J Hypertens, 6/15   

“Effects of... Hibiscus sabdariffa on... mild to moderate essential hypertension: A comparative study with lisinopril” by D. Chukwu Nwachukwu et al., Indian J. Pharmacol, 9-10/15   

“Heart disease facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.CDC.gov   

“Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia...” by A.L. Hopkins et al., Fitoterapia, 3/13   

“Molecular mechanism and health role of functional ingredients in blueberry for chronic disease in human beings” by L. Ma et al., Int J Mol Sci, 9/18 

“Pomegranate consumption and blood pressure...” by S. Asgary et al., Curr Pharm Des, 2017   

 “Preventing heart disease,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, www.hsph.harvard.edu   

“TECA (titrated extract of Centella asiatica): New microcirculatory, biomolecular, and vascular application in preventive and clinical medicine...” by G. Belcaro et al., Panminerva Med, 9/11   

 “An umbrella review of garlic intake and risk of cardiovascular disease” by L. Schwingschakl et al., Phytomedicine, 10/15/16

Contributor: 

Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)

Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), author of Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care and the forthcoming Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies, is a New Hampshire-based registered clinical herbalist and freelance health journalist nestled in the pine forests of New Hampshire. Learn about herbs, the book, distance consults, online classes, and more at www.WintergreenBotanicals.com.

Read more from Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)