Alternative Medicines for Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is a condition in which the coronary arteries (the vessels that bring blood to the heart muscle) become clogged with deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances (collectively known as plaque), depriving the heart muscle of enough blood. When the heart is in this weakened and malfunctioning state, chest pain and a heart attack may result.

Many alternative therapies fault allopathic medicine for not placing enough attention on the possible triggers of heart disease. These therapies offer treatments that eliminate or lessen the need for drugs and surgery. Dean Ornish, M.D., a professor and researcher in San Francisco, has pioneered ways of reversing heart disease. His approach combines a number of alternative therapies, including vegetarianism (eating no meat, poultry, or fish), meditation, and yoga.

Meditation for Heart Disease

Following the premise that stress can boost blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, a relaxation-inducing therapy such as meditation is an important part of a heart disease treatment program. Meditation, however, does more than lower dangerously high levels of blood cholesterol and blood pressure in the body. This practice with ancient roots can quiet and clear the mind, improving a person's sense of peacefulness and control.

Research has shown that daily meditation can lower the blood pressure of those with hypertension. Studies of people with heart disease have proved that a treatment program that includes daily meditation (for 20 minutes or more) can increase blood flow to the heart and -- perhaps equally important -- boost feelings of well-being.

Here's a sample meditation that can be done once a day:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs crossed, keeping your spine straight. Use a cushion if needed. Rest your arms loose and your hands close to your kneecaps, palms facing up. Try to eliminate as many noises and distractions as possible, including unplugging the telephone.
  • Select one word or sound that is pleasant or meaningful to you. Mentally repeat your selection, over and over again.
  • Try to do this for about 20 minutes. If your mind wanders off to another thought, gently return it to the process of repeating your word or sound.

Herbal Medicine & Nutritional Therapy

Herbal Medicine for Heart Disease

Herbs can be used to relieve chest pain and possibly prevent heart attacks with little or no side effects. Hawthorn berries, for example, can reduce or eliminate chest pain by widening coronary arteries (which boosts blood circulation to the heart) and regulating abnormal heartbeats. Several European studies have confirmed these actions. The berries are available in several forms: as a tincture, extract, or capsule or in dried form (to make teas with or add to foods).

Other helpful herbs include:

  • garlic to lower cholesterol, reduce blood clotting in blood vessels, and widen blood vessels
  • ginger to reduce cholesterol and limit blood clotting
  • ginkgo to facilitate blood flow and lower blood pressure

Nutritional Therapy for Heart Disease

The right diet combined with nutritional supplements can be part of the recipe to prevent or reverse heart disease. Nutritional therapists assert that conventional medicine's dietary suggestions for heart disease do not go far enough. Instead of striving for a diet that derives up to 30 percent of daily calories from fat (as the American Heart Association recommends), nutritional therapy often calls for a diet that derives no more than 15 percent of daily calories from fat.

For example, Dean Ornish's heart disease-reversing program includes a vegetarian diet that receives 10 percent or less of its calories from fat, severely reducing dietary cholesterol (the body also produces cholesterol) and saturated fat. Ornish's clinical studies of people with heart disease have shown that a complete treatment program that includes this very-low-fat vegetarian diet can lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol level and boost blood flow to the heart.

Effectiveness of Nutritional Therapy

A significant majority of patients in these studies have experienced an "unclogging" of many blocked arteries after following Ornish's program, while patients in the control groups (receiving conventional therapies) have not. This recommendation of a vegetarian diet makes sense in light of population surveys that reveal fewer vegetarians die from heart disease than nonvegetarians. In addition, vegetarians typically have lower levels of total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol). Removing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat is important but so is eating plenty of foods that are unrefined, organic, high in fiber, and fresh -- these measures reduce the amount of the harmful oxidized cholesterol in the body.

Some practitioners of nutritional therapy, however, maintain that effective treatment and prevention of heart disease goes beyond restricting cholesterol and fat. Certain nutritional deficiencies may put people at risk for heart disease by:

  • contributing to weak blood vessel walls
  • promoting vessel-blocking plaque buildup
  • encouraging blood to clot
  • increasing blood cholesterol

Adding these important nutrients to the diet (by eating unrefined foods and taking supplements) is recommended:

  • L-carnitine
  • chromium
  • coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone)
  • magnesium
  • selenium
  • vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • vitamin C

Essential fatty acids can also be helpful. They can lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and flaxseed oil or fish oil capsules decrease the blood's clotting ability, thereby reducing the danger of blockages.

Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, and whole-milk dairy products. The ideal heart-treatment program allows for just some egg whites and nonfat dairy products. Saturated fat is found in animal foods and a few vegetable foods (such as palm and coconut oils).

 

Chelation Therapy for Heart Disease

According to chelation therapy, removing calcium from the bloodstream and out through the kidneys can help clear any plaque that has built up on blood vessel walls. That's because calcium contributes to the glue that holds plaque together. Once the calcium is gone, the plaque (containing deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances) breaks down on its own and also leaves the body.

The process of removing calcium and other minerals starts with intravenous injections of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), an amino acid that binds to metallic ions in the body and renders them chemically inactive. These joined-together substances are then excreted by the kidneys in the urine.

Various clinical studies of chelation therapy have yielded promising results. In one trial, the majority of people with heart disease who were each given 20 chelation treatments experienced an improvement in chest pain. The reported side effects included nausea and dry mouth. The treatments are often combined with a supplemental regimen of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements (to replace any lost during the chelation process), as well as long-term dietary changes. Only a licensed physician is qualified to perform chelation therapy. Look for someone who has been well trained in this area.

Other Heart Disease Therapies

  • Ayurvedic Medicine for Heart Disease -- Effective treatment may include dietary alterations, herbal therapy, and meditation.
  • Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization for Heart Disease -- People with heart disease can focus on images of clear arteries and a healthy heart.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine for Heart Disease -- Treatment involves acupuncture, acupressure, dietary changes, herbal therapy, and qigong.
  • Yoga for Heart Disease -- Poses and breathing exercises are an important part of a treatment program, as research has shown.

For more information on heart disease and alternative medicine, see: