Today is Health Heart Day and I am sure there will be much written about the benefits of nutrition and exercise in helping the heart – reducing fats and sugar, exercising and losing weight. But did you know there are many herbs which can also help support the heart and the vascular system?
Hawthorn the Heart Herb
The number one herb for heart health is Hawthorn – Crataegus oxyacantha – widely used in Chinese medicine and used in North America for heart problems since 1800. Like many herbs Hawthorn has a number of actions. It is a nervine, so works well on the mind (and nerves) and helps us relax. And as we have seen before, if it relaxes the mind it will also relax the body. Thinking of heart health, it is a hypotensive and vasodilator – in other words it can reduce blood pressure.
It protects the endothelium, the inner wall of the blood vessels which, if damaged allows the build-up of cholesterol. Hawthorn has also been shown to be anti-platelet aggregating, in other words it stops platelets clumping together, it is anti-arrhythmic and finally can lower lipids.
Herbs tend to have less side effects than medications, but they can have some. And they are not quick fixes! Hawthorn takes about 4 to 8 weeks to produce an effect. Like many herbs it doesn’t work for everyone and, indeed, for those with congenitally high blood pressure or severe heart issues it is not the answer. However, it can be helpful in some less severe situations.
Globe Artichoke for cholesterol
While Hawthorn helps reduce lipids, the second herb in the herbal pharmacopeia is Globe Artichoke or Cynara scolymus. Globe artichoke protects the liver, helps to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. A number of studies have been carried out showing the effect of its leaves on triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. It is an anti-oxidant and through this action protects the cardiovascular system. Similar to hawthorn, globe artichoke needs to be taken for a few weeks before you will see an effect.
There are, of course other herbs and foods which can help with heart health, such as berries, dark chocolate!, probiotics, fish oils and fibre. And for some people medication is the way to go. However, if you have an emerging cholesterol problem or slightly raised blood pressure, consider visiting a Naturopath or Herbalist first. It will take a few weeks, but may provide the answer.
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 Wang et al, Effect of Crataegus Usage in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: An Evidence-Based Approach, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013; 2013: 149363. Published online 2013 Dec 29. doi: 10.1155/2013/149363
 Lipid Expert Panel Lipid lowering nutraceuticals in clinical practice: position paper from an International Lipid Expert Panel# Arch Med Sci. 2017 Aug; 13(5): 965–1005. Published online 2017 Aug 4. doi: 10.5114/aoms.2017.69326