Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are general terms referring to several conditions that affect the heart. Atherosclerosis is an inflammation of the coronary arteries, resulting in hardening of the arteries. Arrhythmia is a disturbance in your heart’s normal beating pattern, and includes tachycardia (when the heart beats too quickly) and bradycardia (when the heart beats too slowly). Cardiomyopathy is a thickening or stretching of the heart muscle. Problems with the heart valves, including mitral valve prolapse, can cause leakage or obstruction of blood flow in the heart. Pericardial diseases cause inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. All of these conditions affect the heart’s ability to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood through the body; and all of these conditions can lead to a heart attack.
While heart conditions most commonly affect men over the age of 45, they are of increasing concern to women as well. In fact, heart disease is the number-one cause of death in both men and women. Heart disease is often a hereditary condition. Other risk factor include: obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, and diet high in animal
Signs and Symptoms
- Chest pain-either sharp and stabbing or tight and suffocating; the pain may radiate up to the jaw or through the shoulder down the arms
- Pounding, fluttering, or racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Light headedness
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Visible fluid retention in the ankles, legs, or abdomen
Conventional Medical Treatment
If you experience severe constriction in the chest shortness of breath, and pain that radiates out from your heart, immediately call an ambulance-you may be experiencing a heart attack. If, instead, you experience mild, chronic symptoms of heart disease, visit your physician, who may perform one or more tests to diagnose the condition. Heart disease diagnostic tests include: serum cholesterol test, blood pressure reading, echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, exercise tolerance test (also known as a treadmill test), and angiogram.
Treatment for heart disease usually consists of a combination of lifestyle modifications and medication to regulate the heartbeat, lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, treat heart swelling, or thin the blood for travel through the arteries to the body. In more serious cases, surgery may be required. During bypass surgery, an artery is removed from the leg and implanted in another area of the body to bypass blocked arteries. Valve surgery is used to replace or repair faulty valves. A balloon catheter can be inserted into arteries to dislodge mild blockages. This is called angioplasty. If the heart is not beating regularly, an electronic device called a pacemaker can be implanted in the heart to regulate hear beat.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Nutrition plays a vital role in preventing and treating heart disease. Numerous studies show that diet and exercise directly affect cardiovascular health.
Complex carbohydrates-found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains-are at the core of this diet. Bioflavonoids, which are plant pigments found in vegetables, fruits (oranges, grape fruits, grapes, plums, cherries, and blackberries), and some grains and beans, provide protection against heart disease that can’t be obtained from any other source. Research shows that an increased intake of fish combats heart disease. Use soy protein in place of animal protein when possible. Tofu is a good high-fiber, high-protein source, low in saturated fat.
Water is also important. Pure water, and lots of it, keeps your cells hydrated and helps balance blood pressure. A good guideline to follow is to drink half your body weight in ounces daily.
Protein is important, but Americans consume far too much of the stuff. To get your protein, eat broiled fish and skinless turkey and chicken. With these, you get the protein without the fat. Reduce your cholesterol level by eating garlic, onions, and lecithin-rich grains, legumes and fish. Raw nuts (except peanuts), olive oil, trout, salmon, and mackerel contain essential fatty acids. Eliminate all sources of sodium from your diet, and avoid stimulants such as coffee and tea. Stay away from tobacco, alcohol, chocolate, sugar, butter, margarine, red meat, fats, fried foods, soft drinks, white flour products, and refined or processed foods.
Nutritionists recommend the following daily supplements.
- Coenzyme (50 to 200 mg for less severe cases, up to 400 mg for those more severe) increases oxygenation of the heart tissue; has been shown to prevent recurrences in those who have had a heart attack
- calcium (1500 to 2000 mg in divided doses) helps cardiac muscle function
- magnesium (750 to 1000 mg in divided doses)
- garlic (as directed on label)-lowers blood pressure and thins the blood
- lecithin (2400 mg 3 times daily, with meals)emulsifies fat
- L-carnitine (500 mg two times daily, on empty stomach)
- B vitamin complex (50 mg)-with at least 400 mcg of folic acid to prevent homocysteine buildup, supplemented with vitamin B3 (consult a healthcare provider for dosage; can hamper liver function if incorrect dosage is given)-helps prevent heart attack
- Omega-3 fatty acids (fish or flax, as directed on label)-protects against heart disease
- vitamin E (start with 100 to 200 lU and increase slowly, adding 100 lU weekly until daily dosage is 800 to 1000 lU; do not exceed 400 lU daily if you are taking an anticoagulant
drug)-strengthens the heart muscle and improves circulation (Use this supplement only under the direction of a healthcare provider.)
- vitamin C (500 to 1000 mg in divided doses)prevents heart disease
- bioflavonoids (100 to 300 mg)-protect against cardiovascular disease and heart attacks
- taurine (500 mg 2 times daily)-an antioxidant that enhances the flow of blood from the heart
- selenium (200 mcg)-deficiencies found in people with heart disease
- melatonin (2 to 3 mg, taken near bedtime) an antioxidant that prevents stroke and aids sleep
- potassium (99 mg)
- L-carnitine (500 mg 2 times daily, on empty stomach)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (fish or flaxseed oils) (as directed on label)-protects against heart disease.
If you’re suffering from angina pain, both foxglove and hawthorn berry have powerful effects on the heart and and can relieve discomfort and improve heart function by dilating blood vessels. Use These herbs only under the supervision of a qualified medical herbalist and with your healthcare provider’s approval.
Garlic and ginger may be helpful in managing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which are associated with clogged arteries. Garlic is available as fresh cloves and in tablet form. Fresh ginger (often called ginger root) is available in most supermarkets and also can be found in tablet, capsule, and tea form.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture To combat the hardened arteries associated with atheroscle rosis (the main cause of heart disease), acupuncture may improve circulation to the area, thus reducing the risk of an angina episode. It also can be used to lessen atherosclerosis symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, leg cramps, confusion, and forgetfulness.
In addition, acupuncture can be used as anesthesia during open heart surgery. In this case, the Lung 7 and Circulation 6 points on the wrist may be manipulated, along with related points in the left ear.
Acupressure This modality may help lessen the symptoms of heart disease. In the case of angina, for instance, the practitioner may apply pressure to Conception Vessel 17, Pericardium 6, and Heart 7 to help relieve pain. Palpitations also are treated by manipulating Pericardium 6 and Heart 7, along with related ear points. Various bladder, spleen, and stomach points may be added.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Ginseng, which has been shown to prevent myocardial infarction, may be used as a preventive treatment to strengthen the heart, regulate blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels. Take a 5- to 10-gram decoction once a day. Pseudoginseng is a related herb that is also very effective, although it should not be used during pregnancy.
Garlic has anti-clotting properties.
Dan Shen Tablets (whose main ingredient is salvia), and Ginseng Restorative Pills are Chinese patent medicines that may be recommended to counteract disease.
Because Chinese medicine views heart disease as a condition related to digestive problems, herbs may be given to cleanse and strengthen the gastrointestinal system.
Yoga and Meditation
Several yoga positions help increase blood flow, improve circulation, and make the veins more elastic-all of which will help protect the heart. Try these poses several times a day: Sun Salutation, Locust, Lotus, Bridge, Dog and Cat, Camel, Bow Cobra, Forward Bend, and Knee Squeeze. Also try the Supported Shoulder Stand; build up slowly to holding it for five minutes. Remember to consult your doctor before embarking on any new exercise program; proper heart care is extremely important.