HERBS FOR THE HEART

HERBS FOR THE HEART

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Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. If you added together all the other major reasons for death, heart disease is still way out ahead of the field. It is also a disease which is highly responsive to dietary changes - and yet people continue to die from it.

High blood pressure is often a big factor and affects around 25% of the population. Again, diet has been shown to be equally effective as drug therapies. Several long-term studies have even indicated that these medications, used to lower high blood pressure, may actually increase the risk of having a heart attack!

Dietary factors involved in heart disease are fairly well known - if not universally applied! Avoiding fatty foods - principally from animal sources, is the main part. On the positive side, using Herbs/foods like garlic has been demonstrated by the French (and in clinical trials) to lower the LDL-cholesterol (`bad'' cholesterol) and increase HDL-cholesterol (a protective factor against heart disease). Omega-3 oil has recently received a lot of press for its ability to normalize cholesterol levels. It is often extracted from fish but flax seeds also contain large amounts of this very beneficial oil.

Salt can upset the fluid balances in the body causing water retention and therefore high blood pressure so it should be greatly reduced or avoided altogether. There are now many wonderful herbal alternatives to salt in healthfood stores.

In western Herbal medicine the Herb which has been most used for cardiovascular disease is Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha). The leaves, flowers and berries can all be used and they have a particular ability to increase the blood flow to the heart muscle itself by dilating the coronary arteries. It is especially effective for angina since this is caused by a lack of blood flow within the heart muscle itself. Hawthorn also affects the metabolism in the heart resulting in a stronger heart beat and often eliminating some types of rhythm disturbances.

Its effect on the heart alone make this a very worthy Herb but Hawthorn also affects the rest of the circulation. Flavanoids contained in Hawthorn not only work as a preventative for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries due to cholesterol build up) but also as a potential reversing agent for this highly damaging, yet prevalent disease. Combining the use of Garlic with regular use of Hawthorn and flax seeds (or oil), usually has a very significant effect on cholesterol levels and high blood pressure - the two most common precursors of heart disease.

Here in the U.S. a generally `acceptable'' level of cholesterol is 130-215 mg/dl. If you have ever had a blood test these are the figures you will find as the `acceptable'' limits. Japan has the lowest incidence of heart disease and a typical cholesterol level there is around 120 mg/dl. They eat a high fish diet and very little dairy or meat. Of course they have other health issues but even with all this evidence of how we should be eating in order to prevent this killer disease, still the majority of the American population persists in this slow form of suicide. Dietary changes are not always easy (although considering the options it shouldn''t be that hard!) but a simple thing like using garlic - especially with a fatty meal can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of cholesterol taken up from that meal. Now we even have odorless forms in convenient capsules to help the breath conscious individuals.

Everybody is different and some will respond faster to the dietary changes than others so don''t get dispondent if yours changes slower. When people first start on the herbs and low cholesterol diet they can experience an increase in blood cholesterol levels. This is because the cholesterol is being mobilized from the fat and from the sides of the blood vessel walls so there is more actually circulating for a short period of time. Don''t be alarmed - just keep taking the (Herbal) medicine!! If you are on blood pressure medication please consult a professional to monitor the changes.