Heart Conditions: CAM Therapies for Specific
- MindBody therapies create a relaxed state in the
treatment of heart diseases. Therefore, they can be of significant value. A
wide array of MindBody therapies have been applied to heart disease and appear
to decrease the psychosocial stress that is related to many heart conditions.
- Exercise and movement reduce harmful effects of heart disease.
They decrease the harmful effect of stress and help prevent some of the
diseases of aging, including heart diseases.
- Meditation can be effective in the treatment of
heart disease. Meditation appears to have a direct salutory effect upon
breathing, and proper breathing is an important component in the reduction of
stress, which is beneficial for the health of the heart.
- Behavioral medicine in the treatment of heart disease can
have positive effects. Behavioral medicine is particularly effective for
conditions that are primarily caused by stress and mood disorders, and for
conditions that are strongly affected by stress and other psychological
factors. These conditions include many types of heart disease.
- Hypnotherapy is currently used in the treatment of
heart disease to modify feelings of pain, anxiety, and fear, and to help
patients accept new behaviors. A hypnotic state is similar to other forms of
- Imagery can be effective for heart disease. In a
1994 controlled experiment, Dr. Christopher Sharpley used biofeedback-assisted
imagery to train healthy volunteers to lower their heart rate activity while
being exposed to stressors. Effects of this exercise were maintained
twenty-eight weeks after the study had concluded.
- Biofeedback can help in the treatment of heart
disease. Using various biological monitoring instruments, patients learn to
consciously regulate the responses of the autonomic nervous system, including
brain waves, muscle tension, blood flow, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Tai chi exercises, in a 1992 study, improved
heart rate and blood pressure as much as walking. In a 1995 study, elderly tai
chi practitioners showed significantly improved cardiorespiratory function,
compared to sedentary people.
- Qi Gong exercises are used in the treatment of
heart disease. A twenty-year study in China, completed in 1993, reported
benefits of lowered blood pressure. Patients using Qi Gong were 50 percent less
likely to become ill or die from stroke.
- Music therapy was used as a pacemaker, helping hearts
to achieve normal heart rhythms, in two studies by Haas in 1980 and Bason in
1992. It also reduces anxiety in heart attack patients.
- MindBody medicine is used in the treatment of
heart disease. It has been used very effectively in a program developed by Dr.
Dean Ornish that combines a vegetarian diet with yoga, meditation, group
support, and moderate exercise. This program has halted progression of heart disease,
as well as reversed it.
- Diet, in heart disease treatment, has been shown to be very
effective as a means of preventing and correcting various cardiovascular
conditions. Many studies support dietary therapy for heart disease. Most
clinicians and researchers now agree that a low-fat diet is generally the best
diet for the heart.
- Omega-3 protects against heart arrhythmias. It
inhibits blood clotting and relaxes smooth muscles in blood vessel walls. The
best source of this nutrient is flaxseed oil.
- Vitamin E, in the treatment of heart disease, can
have powerful positive effects. Many studies show that vitamin E reduces
clogging of the arteries, mitigates angina, and reduces coronary risk. A Harvard
study of 135,000 health professionals found that those who took daily vitamin E
supplements had one-fourth to one-third less coronary risk than those who
- The nutrient beta-carotene can be effective in the treatment of
heart disease. According to the Coronary Primary Prevention study, low blood
levels of carotenoids are associated with coronary disease. In general, it is
best to obtain beta-carotene in its natural form from deeply colored yellow,
red, and orange fruits and vegetables.
- Fiber from whole oats, rice, and other grains
helps prevent heart disease. At present, the United States government allows
only four health claims to be made regarding the value of foodstuffs in
preventing disease. One of these four claims is that soluble fiber from whole
oats helps to prevent coronary problems.
- Selenium, a mineral, appears to have some value
in the treatment of heart disease. In a 1994 Chinese study by Han, pregnant
women at risk for high blood pressure showed reduction and prevention of
hypertension. Epidemiological studies indicate that low selenium intake is
associated with increased heart disease.
- Coenzyme Q10, a nutrient, has shown promising results
in the treatment of heart disease. It may protect against tissue damage in
heart disease, and may help prevent heart disease through antioxidant action.
- L-carnitine is an amino acid which may be of value
for treating heart disease. Among the claims for L-carnitine are that it
increases blood flow and enhances energy production during exercise. It appears
to reduce angina and ischemia.
- A 1995 study found low levels of the
hormone DHEA in men
with blocked arteries. Another study showed that DHEA supplementation reduced
platelet aggregation, which occurs when blood cells stick together.
- Melatonin is a hormone that may be of some value
in helping to prevent heart disease. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps to
protect tissues. Some researchers believe that it may help retard the aging
- Chiropractic therapy has been shown to be of value in
improving overall health, and thereby improving cardiovascular function.
However, most studies do not support the use of chiropractic manipulation as a
specific modality for cardiovascular disorders, including hypertension. One
study indicated chiropractic had no effect upon high blood pressure.
- Garlic may lower cholesterol, thin the blood,
serve as a powerful antioxidant, lower blood pressure, and stimulate the immune
system. Due to garlic's action on blood platelets, it is necessary to reduce
doses of blood thinners and aspirin. Recent studies indicate that garlic may
not actually lower cholesterol very much and may be of benefit to the heart by
influencing other biological factors.
- Herbs are often used in the treatment of heart
disease. Hawthorn, an herb, has been shown in several studies to be effective
in relieving symptoms of heart disease such as angina. Hawthorn helps improve
exercise tolerance, blood pressure, and anginal pain. High dosages can cause
hypotension (too low blood pressure) and sedation.
- Cascara sagrada (buckthorn), senna,
and aloe are not in
widespread use, but in people with irregular heartbeat, these herbs can reduce
blood levels of potassium and increase the effects of drugs that regulate heart
rhythms, such as lanoxin. Senna, cascara sagrada, and aloe are laxatives that
can cause water and potassium loss. These are particularly risky if combined
with prescription diuretics or digitalis. Consult with your doctor if you have
any heart problems before taking any of these herbs.
- Naturopathy is employed in the treatment of heart
disease. Atherosclerosis has been shown to respond to the eclectic approach of
naturopathy, which includes dietary therapy, supplementation, and botanical
- Ayurvedic herbs are used in the treatment of heart
conditions. The goal of the Ayurvedic approach is to restore constitutional
- Guggul is an herb found safe and effective for
treating coronary heart disease. There is a long history of its positive effect
on cardiovascular disease both through lowering cholesterol and as an
antioxidant. Clinical studies recommend 25 mg of guggulsterone, three times per
day. Usually the standardized supplement contains only 5 percent guggulsterone,
which translates into an effective dosage of 500 mg three times per day with
meals. In a 1988 Indian study, guggul produced reductions in blood cholesterol. It also appeared
to cause a decrease in low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, levels. Guggul is considered to be an emenogogue, or
agent that promotes menstruation, and should not be used during pregnancy.
- Ayurvedic medicine treatment of heart disease appears to be
promising. In a 1995 study, an Ayurvedic treatment provoked improvements in
patients with refractory congestive heart failure (CHF).
- Lifestyle-based heart disease
development of complications. They also appear to induce regression in the blockages
of the coronary arteries.
Caution: High doses of steroids
used by athletes have been linked to heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy, and
possibly cancer. Other adverse effects include liver toxicity, decreases in
plasma testosterone, atrophy of the testes, prostate enlargement, impotence,
decreased sperm count, breast enlargement in men, increased injury of muscles
and tendons, increase in serum cholesterol, and decrease in high-density
lipoproteins (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Psychological side
effects can include euphoria, aggressiveness, irritability, nervous tension,
changes in libido, mania, and psychosis.
Caution: Licorice can induce a
rapid heartbeat. This can occur when there is excessive consumption over an
extended period of time, which causes a sodium-potassium imbalance, with
symptoms of fluid retention and rapid heartbeat. There are potential negative
interactions of high-dose licorice with antihypertensives, diuretics, diogoxin,
and other digitalis derivatives (digitalic glycosides).
Caution: Ephedra increases
heart rate. This herb, also known as ma huang in Chinese medicine,
can be valuable in treating colds, but it has a stimulating effect, similar to
that of caffeine.
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BEST ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: WHAT WORKS? WHAT DOES NOT? by Dr. Kenneth R.
Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R.
permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.
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