Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common causes of death in North America.
It develops slowly over time due to chronic stress, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices. For the most part, it is preventable – and although prevention of heart disease is the primary goal, there are many natural and herbal therapies that can be very effective in the treatment of the disease as well.
Categories of Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease can be divided into four main categories:
There are generalized cardiovascular disorders that include hypertension and hypotension (high and low blood pressure).
Peripheral vascular disorders, including conditions such as atherosclerosis which is a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposit of fatty plaques on their inner walls. Strokes, as well as transient ischemic attacks or ‘mini strokes’ that result in a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain causing stroke like symptoms that go away within a short period of time. And hemorrhoids or varicose veins.
Blood disorders are also part of cardiovascular disease and include such conditions as anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells or of hemoglobin in the blood, which results in pallor and weakness; and polycythemia which is an abnormal concentration of hemoglobin in the blood.
Many diseases of the heart, the worst being myocardial infarction, or heart attack. Arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms also fall into this category. Angina pectoris, which presents with intense pain in the chest, shoulder, and arms and is caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart. And finally, congestive heart failure that results from a weakened heart muscle leading to fluid to build up in the lungs and surrounding tissues.
Factors that contribute to Cardiovascular Disease
There are many factors that contribute to heart disease. Of the many lifestyle factors that may increase a person’s risk, the following are the biggest contributors:
- Water. Dehydration, especially chronic dehydration.
- Lack of exercise. Overall inactivity, a sedentary lifestyle, and lack of flexibility all contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Diet. Consuming a diet high in animal protein, cholesterol, and fat; if they have food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, or eat bigger meals close to bedtime; as well as high glycemic foods or those foods full of sugar or salt.
- Poor sleep. Disrupted sleep, a short sleep cycle, lack of the right amount of sleep and insomnia all add to the risk of heart disease.
When taking into account how stress plays a role in heart disease the focus is on the chronic stress we expose ourselves to day to day, and its link to cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack.
Environmental influences that are often overlooked, include air and water quality, toxins, heavy metals, and chemicals that contribute to the development of heart disease.
Viruses and bacteria can also be factors in both acute and chronic heart disease.
Other causes such as smoking, genetics, and prescription medications are also known to play a role.
Aside from the above, it is also important to know that there are many other health conditions that are linked with cardiovascular disease including obesity or metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high cholesterol, endocrine disorders, thyroid and kidney disease.
Options for the management of Cardiovascular Disease
Herbs have been used for centuries as therapy for heart conditions. The following are just a few that can help the heart to function more efficiently, reduce cholesterol, and keep blood flowing. Important to note, these herbs can be used as part of a heart-healthy diet and way of life – not as a replacement. It is always vital to address lifestyle, stress, and environmental factors and these should be part of every management approach.
Garlic (Allium sativa) is a species in the onion genus with a long history of use as a food flavouring and traditional medicine. It is a great herb that protects your body against a sluggish cardiovascular system. It can lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increase the good cholesterol. Garlic also lessens plaque formation in your arteries while protecting the aorta (the large vessel responsible for maintaining blood flow and pressure with every beat of your heart) against aging. Just thrown that goodness on everything… trust me, a little bad breath is nothing for the benefits this herb brings.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) is used specifically with circulatory disorders. In clinical studies, hawthorn has shown that its leaves, flowers and fruits contain substances that act as antioxidants and help with symptoms of atherosclerosis. It also helps out the liver by promoting the breakdown of cholesterol into bile acids. When hawthorn is used for an extended period of time, it has been proven to help dilate blood vessels for better blood flow through the heart and body. The easiest way to enjoy hawthorn is in a hot cup of tea but it is also great in jams, syrups, and tinctures.
Bilberry (Vaccinum myrtillus) is a European class of blueberry that contains some of the most powerful antioxidants available. These have a stimulant effect on the blood vessels, helping to strengthen capillaries and therefore are useful in the treatment of varicose veins or hemorrhoids. (Caution is advised in those with diabetes because of potential hypoglycemic effects).
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a perennial plant in the mint family, which improves cardiac function and circulation. It has been used since ancient time to ease anxiety and improve overall heart health. Even its Latin name is attributed to the heart. Motherwort is rich in leonine, a mild vasodilator. This means it increases the size of the blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow to the heart and body. It is also a diuretic, reducing water retention in the body and naturally lowering high blood pressure.
The advantages of a more natural approach to heart disease are that it can focus on treating the cause of the disease while being aware that you need to combine a person’s lifestyle and environment with their health status, and using effective herbal therapies without many of the side-effects of prescription medications.
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