Consider Integrative Therapies to Combat Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, approximately 1.2 million Americans have a heart attack each year.
Former president Bill Clinton's recent unplanned heart surgery underscores the importance of heart health awareness. This month, American Heart Month, take time to assess your heart health and learn about conventional and integrative approaches to help combat heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is usually caused by atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty material and plaque build up on the walls of the arteries and cause them to narrow. This narrowing can result in partially or fully blocking the blood flow to the heart, resulting in a lack of oxygen and ultimately chest pain. If the heart muscle is damaged, a heart attack results. CAD can also lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death, and it is closely related with stroke.
What Are Some Warning Signs?
How Do I Know It's a Heart Attack?
Most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort, but some might come on strong and sudden. Below are some key signs to watch for. If any of these symptoms last longer than a few minutes, call 9-1-1.
- Chest pain or discomfort that feels like pressure, pain, squeezing
- Pain or discomfort in part of the upper body, such as the arm, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
How Do I Know It's a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood clot clogs an artery, preventing oxygen from getting to part of the brain, or when a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding in part of the brain. Call 9-1-1 if any of the following symptoms appear suddenly.
- Numbness or weakness in the face, typically on one side
- Weakness in one side of the body, particularly in an arm or leg
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Severe headache
Who's At Risk?
Both men and women are at risk for developing CAD. The following factors increase your risk:
- Age 50 or older
- High blood pressure
- High LDL "bad" cholesterol
- Low HDL "good" cholesterol
- Not getting enough physical activity or exercise
- Higher levels of inflammation-related substances enzymes
What Can You Do To Reduce Your Risk?
Make regular appointments with your provider and take time to discuss your lifestyle and health history. Depending on your specific symptoms and history, your provider may suggest one or more of the following:
- lower blood pressure
- lower cholesterol
- reduce strain on the heart
- thin the blood to minimize clotting
- increase blood supply to the heart
Procedures or surgery:
- Coronary atherectomy
- Coronary artery bypass grafts
- Not using tobacco products
- Eating a healthy diet
- Watching your weight and cholesterol
- Avoiding excess use of alcohol
What Are Some Integrative Therapies to Consider for Heart Disease?
Emotional and Social Healing Practices, such as yoga, meditation, a low-fat vegetarian diet, smoking cessation, regular exercise, and community support, can not only help halt the progression of CAD, but they can help reverse it. The work of Dr. Dean Ornish in this area has been ground-breaking, contributing to lifestyle recommendations that are now mainstream and conventional.
Mind/Body Practices and Stress Reduction, such as meditation, guided imagery, and biofeedback, can help lower the excitation level of the body, positively impacting blood pressure, cholesterol levels, sugar metabolism (and therefore diabetes), mood state, sleeping patterns, and communication abilities. Their use is recommended by the American College of Cardiology and the Institute of HeartMath.
Botanicals and Supplements, such as Omega-3 supplements, garlic, hawthorne, or folic acid, have been found to benefit those with CAD. You should talk with your healthcare provider before adding botanicals to your health regimen and ask about the right dosage for you. Read more about botanical medicine.
CAD is not a one-time event. It is important for individuals with CAD to work with their providers to regularly monitor their disease and discuss any new or worsening symptoms.
Individuals with CAD are generally on prescription medications to protect the heart. Changing or stopping that medication can be potentially life-threatening. If individuals with CAD pursue complementary therapies, such as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or naturopathy, it is critical that their providers consider potential drug interactions between cardiac medications and any natural products (for example, Chinese herbs).
Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient and The Heartmates Journal: A Companion for Partners of People with Serious Illness, available at http://www.heartmates.com.
Guarneri, M., MD (2006). The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing. Simon and Schuster.
Ornish, D., MD (1999). Love and Survival. HarperCollins Publishers.
Oz, M., MD, Ornish, D., MD (1998). Healing from the Heart: A Leading Surgeon Combines Eastern and Western Traditions to Create the Medicine of the Future. Plume.
Wilson, B.C., MD, Childre, D., MD (2006). The Heartmath Approach to Managing Hypertension: The Proven, Natural Way to Lower Your Blood Pressure. Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications.