Many of my clients who are elderly or have had challenges with heart issues at a younger age, have found it useful to engage in a synergistic approach to healing which integrates both allopathic and holistic adjunct therapies.
In conversations with my colleagues that are cardiologists, these issues come up as key items in a successful program of promoting heart health.
(1) Regulating Blood Pressure
This is very important as higher blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The three most important complementary therapies to western medications are regular exercise, control of high sodium food and herbs that target the liver energies which in our Chinese medicine system plays a role in the management of blood pressure.
Walking or even better, performing qi gong movements at least 30 minutes daily makes a huge difference in the successful maintenance of blood pressure. Qi gong and taiji in particular offer even deeper results because the movements are designed to not only reduce stress but also target specific energetic patterns that can be responsible for higher blood pressure. The Pulling Down Heavens from the Five Treasures set with emphasis on calming liver heat and the Taoist Five liver movement are particularly helpful especially combined with deep breathing, which by itself, plays a role in lowering blood pressure.
Some individuals are also sodium sensitive and need to cut back on salt in the diet to gain control of the blood pressure. A way to determine this is to take a baseline blood pressure reading. Then for three to four days, reduce salt. Take the blood pressure again. You should see a lower number if you are sodium sensitive.
Liver-based Chinese herbal formulations can also be helpful including use foods as medicine in terms of integrating rhubarb, dandelion, chicory, cucumber, all green leafy vegetables and peppermint tea into the daily diet.
Don’t have time to exercise or cut back on salt? Then you may need to consider taking allopathic medications to control blood pressure. The risk from unchecked blood pressure is simply too risky. I would rather see my clients controlling blood pressure with medication if they cannot find the time to exercise, alter diet, avoid high sodium meals, than for them to risk having heart attacks or strokes.
(2) Regulating Cholesterol
Higher cholesterol levels can compromise arterial flow and also increase incidences of heart attack and stroke. Many of my clients are concerned about the toxic effects of statin type drugs but again balance is key. I suggest changing diet and integrating some Chinese herbs as first efforts, but if we don’t see a significant shift in a positive direction with cholesterol, then it makes more sense to use holistic medicine as an adjunct, not primary therapy, to mitigate side effects of allopathic medication which can often create a quicker and more consistent change in terms of cholesterol management (especially in seniors where high cholesterol may have gone unchecked for years).
As an example, one client took himself off his allopathic cholesterol medication because he was fearful of toxic side effects (even though he was not manifesting any negative effects from his cholesterol meds–his liver panels were excellent and his cholesterol was too) and within six months, he had a severe heart attack. This was completely avoidable and very sad to witness.
A more balanced approach for this client would have been to stay on his allopathic medication but integrate other things such as Nordic Natural fish oil capsules, and Chinese herbs to support the liver and gently detoxify the body. In this way, he would have had superb cholesterol control without side effects–and probably would have required less dosage of his allopathic medication.
If cholesterol is only mildly elevated and there is no history of cardiac episodes or stroke, then we can use more of the natural remedies and therapies such as a customized formulation of three Chinese herbs that are known to reduce cholesterol and serve as gentle cardio tonics. All herbs should be supervised by a trained herbalist and formulated after checks have been run to make sure that herbs will not interfere or reduce effectiveness of any traditional pharmacological supplements that a person is taking.
Dietary shifts such as including more water soluble fiber such as oatmeal, chia seeds and hemp seeds is also helpful along with a regular program of exercise. Avoiding saturated fats is also important such as butter and animal fats. The healthy fats such as those found in nuts can also help to balance cholesterol.
Adding supplements with plant sterols can also be helpful when one has overall high cholesterol or high LDL (a recommendation the American Heart Association supports) but one should have the cholesterol levels monitored regularly and any supplement therapy should be monitored by a professional versus trying to self treat. The New England Journal of Medicine in 1995 reported that 2 grams of plant sterols a day lowered LDL cholesterol by 14% and total cholesterol by 10% when taken daily for one year. Other studies show a reduction of heart disease by 25% when 2 grams of plant sterols are consumed daily. However, one must also check to make certain there are no sensitivities to soy as most plant sterols on the market are derived from soy (a concern for many asthmatics who are soy sensitive).
Last, niacin has become a popular therapy to reduce high levels of triglycerides, but what many practitioners do not mention or check for is a history of gout. If you have a history of gout or inflammation, niacin can exacerbate that. Thus, finding the correct level or determining if niacin is really right for you should be done with the guidance of a professional versus trying to self treat. Case in point, one of my clients who has a long standing history of gout kept experiencing flare-ups. He went two years before he shared that one of his other holistic practitioners had him on niacin therapy as treatment for high triglycerides–a key factor in aggravating his gout. Clearly, it is important to look at the clients’ entire medical history and health issues before suggesting supplements or even the natural therapies can create health problems.
(3) Reduce Inflammation
Research shows that high levels of inflammation are associated with heart disease. Many of the strategies suggested above for effective blood pressure and cholesterol control are also effective in reducing inflammation. In addition, there are specific Chinese herbs that also help to reduce inflammation which we give in low dosages as daily therapy. One of my colleagues, who is a cardiologist, suggests 4 capsules of the Nordic Natural fish oil supplements as that level has been clinically found to effectively reduce the type of inflammation that can compromise heart health. For vegans, there are flaxseed oils that have algae-derived DHA added, but the research is not conclusive as to whether this is as effective as fish oil supplements. Pumpkin seeds can also help to reduce inflammation but is not nearly as effectively clinically as the fish oil according to my colleagues who are cardiologists.
Regular qi gong exercise routines along with medical qi gong or acupressure sessions can also play a role in reducing inflammation.Once or every two week appointments is usually all that is needed for maintenance level, less so, if one is performing qi gong movement daily.
On a dietary level, avoiding refined sugars and refined carbohydrates (white flour), plants in the nightshade family such as peppers, eggplants and white potatoes are also helpful.
Finding that balance between integrating therapies from both traditional western and complementary medicine is key in creating good heart health in a way that allows clients to optimize their health and enjoy life.
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