It is easy to forget about the heart because it functions automatically. But over the years, daily abuse like stress, eating junk food, living a sedentary lifestyle and smoking slowly worsen heart function and can cause serious consequences. Fortunately, all is not gloomy. Unlike accidents and terminal illnesses, heart disease is controllable.
One of the requirements for a healthy heart is healthy blood circulation. This keeps the heart beating, moving blood throughout the blood vessels and providing the body with the nutrients that it requires for proper functioning. But for circulation to be effective, the blood’s route through the body must be open, flexible and free of obstruction.
Many herbs and a whole food diet of fruits and vegetables, lots of water and regular exercise can keep the heart and vessels fit. In this regard, the herbs help prevent heart disease and reduce symptoms by lowering blood pressure, improving breathing, and clearing arteries. The medicinal effect of some well-known herbs is empirically proven.
Scientists have endorsed some local plants, food items and spices used in patients with heart problems, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure and irregular heartbeats since centuries.
Top on the list are garlic, onion, Cayenne pepper, bitter kola, Solanum nigrum, tea, hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) and Apocynum cannabinum (black Indian hemp). Mostly, the primary action of some of these items is to increase the flow of blood to the body’s extremities (arms, legs, fingers and toes) and to improve the health of blood vessel walls.
In a 2015 study published in the journal, Phytomedicine, entitled “Traditional herbs: A Remedy for Cardiovascular Disorders”, researchers categorised various medicinal plants traditionally used for cardiovascular disorders.
The review highlights the cardiovascular effects of four potent medicinal plants, including garlic, hawthorn, Guggul (Commiphora wightii) and Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna).
In fact, the scientists in the review corroborated from current research methods that garlic, hawthorn, Guggul and Arjuna can be utilised effectively in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases including ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat and hypertension.
“Although the mechanisms of action are not very clear, there is enough evidence of their efficacy in various cardiovascular disorders,” they said.
Garlic is one of nature’s most studied and helpful herbs. Scientific trials reveal that it can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, raise high-density lipoprotein levels (HDL, the good cholesterol), keep the blood “thin” and flowing as well as free of potentially deadly blood clots with every heartbeat. It also has a blood pressure lowering effect.
In one study, adding as little as two ounces of garlic juice to a fatty, cholesterol-laden meal was found to actually lower the cholesterol by up to seven per cent.
Another study found that 600 milligrammes of garlic powder a day could push the total cholesterol down by some 10 per cent. Similarly, a 10-month study found that eating three cloves of garlic a day keeps the cholesterol down for extended periods.
Moreover, ginger’s heart-helping attributes are similar to that of garlic. Ginger interferes with the sequence of events necessary for blood clots to form. This helps to prevent clots that can lodge in narrowed coronary arteries and set off a heart attack as well as reduce blood pressure.
For centuries, people around the world have consumed green tea and onions for their health benefits. The antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in tea has the ability to protect the heart by keeping blood pressure under control and cholesterol from clogging arteries.
In fact, a 2012 study published in Preventive Medicine found that drinking three cups of black tea per day for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in blood sugar levels and triglycerides, an increase in HDL cholesterol levels, and increased blood levels of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
Previous studies have shown that a combination of daily intake of coconut oil, local spices, banana, Zobo (sorrel), local bitters such as bitter leaf, scent leaf as well as exercise training would reduce the risk of developing chronic and non communicable diseases like blood pressure, diabetes and heart diseases.
Moreover, mistletoe and moringa can also help to treat cardiovascular diseases including hypertension, stroke and heart disease. Its dramatic effect on the blood sugar level also normalises and neutralises it, thus treating diabetes.
In a Harvard study of 87,245 female nurses, consumption of carrots (and to a lesser extent, spinach) significantly reduced stroke risk. Women who ate five servings of carrots a week suffered 68 per cent fewer strokes than those who ate carrots less than twice a month.
Other studies show that people can reduce their risk of stroke by as much as 54 per cent if they eat lots of fruits and veggies like broccoli that are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.
Also, cayenne shares some of the same health-promoting properties of garlic and hawthorn. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin. Studies indicate it lowers cholesterol and lessens blood clotting while improving capillary strength throughout the bloodstream.
A “Mediterranean” diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods, is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease.