American heart health is struggling today.
Even though we’ve made advances in our understanding and treatment of cardiovascular disease, it’s still the top killer. Most people point to lifestyle issues as the prime risk factors: things like a nutrient-poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking. But statistics suggest other culprits. Above and beyond anything else, chronic stress, anger and other similar issues appear to pose the biggest risk. Physical, mental and emotional stress over time can increase chronic inflammation and trigger a cascade of harmful biochemical reactions that damage the cardiovascular system. Even just living at a fast pace and not getting enough sleep can greatly increase your chances of cardiovascular disease.
Interestingly, however, new research suggests it’s not necessarily the stress, as much as how we feel about it that can be so problematic. Though the studies are preliminary, it’s been suggested that when people believe that stress is not hurting them and that their stress is meaningful for their work or life, then they actually show signs of better cardiovascular health than people with no chronic stress.
This demonstrates another fascinating connection between the power of the mind to influence health and physical states.
Certainly, however, other lifestyle factors play a significant role. One of the best known risk factors of course is diet: too many high-glycemic (high-sugar) foods, too much trans fat, too many calories and too much processed food. Also related to diet is dehydration, which negatively influences the cardiovascular system and can seriously affect the heart. These factors also fuel chronic inflammation and high blood pressure while promoting cholesterol oxidized deposits in arteries and hardening of cardiovascular tissues.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can do a lot for heart health, particularly for addressing the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. In Western medicine, we tend to look at cardiovascular disease as a general category with different manifestations. In TCM, however, we distinguish different forms of cardiovascular disease and their outcomes.
According to TCM, there are individual energetic patterns that affect the cardiovascular system. These patterns correlate with Western medicine. For example, from a Western point of view, you can have cardiovascular disease because your genes make you susceptible to thickened blood. Similarly, TCM views this state as being “emotionally stuck” — corresponding to Qi congestion or blood congestion.
In conventional medicine, cardiovascular disease can develop because of chronic inflammation. In TCM, this is considered an issue of heat in the liver or heart channels. And while a TCM practitioner may believe you have heart problems because of dryness, lack of fluidity and a lack of nourishment in the heart, these problems correlate with inflammation and hormonal imbalance.
Consequently, TCM offers a different system to diagnose and address various cardiovascular disease manifestations. And while TCM’s observations correlate with Western medicine’s view, it uses different concepts, terminology and herbal remedies to treat what are essentially the same issues.
Heart Healthy Diet And Lifestyle
If you follow a low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet with balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fats, you can go a long way in supporting a healthier heart. You should also eat plenty of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits to combat inflammation to keep arteries clear.
Caloric restrictions are important, regardless of how healthy your diet. Often, people tend to think that if they eat a low glycemic diet, they can eat as much as they want. But it’s not true; you’re still going to gain weight.
Another dietary caution: Make sure you consume enough minerals (especially electrolytes). You need magnesium and calcium at a 1:1 ratio as well as items like potassium, zinc and selenium. Minerals support numerous aspects of cardiovascular/heart health.
In terms of lifestyle, it’s important to take the time to slow down, get sufficient rest and reduce chronic stress in your life. Mindful meditation, even just 10 minutes a day, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate anxiety and depression more effectively than antidepressant drugs.
There are a few categories of supplements that are important for cardiovascular health. The standard category consists of the B vitamins along with vitamins A, C, D3, E (tocopherols), A, K2 as well as the minerals mentioned above.
A great example of a useful herbal formulation is a Tibetan herbal formula which has more than 50 published papers showing significant benefits in cardiovascular health. And there are also individual herbs, like Dan Shen (Salvia) and hawthorn berry that support cardiovascular health with multiple benefits.
In addition, a fast-growing body of research shows that supplements that block the biological protein galectin-3 can help protect against chronic inflammation and the remodeling of blood vessels and heart tissue. Of the beneficial galectin-3 blockers,modified citrus pectin (MCP) has been shown to be extremely promising. In fact, the American Heart Association published a study showing that elevated galectin-3 in the body contributes to hardening of the arteries and atherosclerosis, and that MCP reversed these effects through its ability to bind and block galectin-3.
The enzymes nattokinase and lumbrokinase also help with hyperviscosity and can reduce arterial plaque formation and increase circulation.
New FDA-Approved Test For Cardiovascular Risks
In 2011, in response to several large-scale population studies and other data, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the galectin-3 blood test as the only new cardiovascular screening assay to be approved in the past seven years. This simple test is recognized by most health insurances as a diagnostic and prognostic tool to measure the risk and progression of cardiovascular disease and heart failure. Elevated levels of galectin-3 can also indicate: metastatic cancer risk, risk of progression in established cases of cancer, arthritis, hepatitis and type 2 diabetes.
How To Stick With Your Program
With any health program, a program designed for prevention, it can be very hard for people to stay on the right track. One thing that helps is to focus on supporting your motivation, which usually crumbles under stress.
So if you can address stress, be happier and have a better outlook about life, you are naturally more inclined to take better care of yourself. Daily meditation practice, even for just 10 minutes, can really help in this area. Another important factor is exercise. When you exercise and mobilize your energy, your world view is refreshed, you feel better, you have fewer cravings and you feel more motivated to keep your program going.
An often overlooked aspect of diet consists of good hydration. When you are dehydrated, you may tend eat more sweets. But if you stay hydrated the craving for sweets shrinks dramatically.