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Heart Conditions: CAM Therapies for Specific Conditions

  • 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 deep relaxation.

  • 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 didn?t.

  • 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 process.

  • 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 medicines.

  • Ayurvedic herbs are used in the treatment of heart conditions. The goal of the Ayurvedic approach is to restore constitutional balance.

  • 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 interventions reduce 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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    Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

    Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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