One of the main concerns in the world of health care today, both in western medical circles and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases. There are numerous factors for why this is, such as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, coupled with unhealthy diets, stress, and overwork. We have seen the incidence in heart disease steadily rise over the last fifty years to the point that today heart disease and stroke are two of the three most common causes of death in Canada and that every seven minutes someone in this country dies from cardiovascular disease. We ask ourselves questions like “what can be done about this?” Traditional Chinese Medicine has numerous modalities for prevention and one of the most effective is specific herbs that are used for this purpose. Much of TCM focuses on prevention rather than just treating specific symptoms. The following herbs are often used in TCM in relation to the heart.
Hawthorn: A common shrub in the Rose family, hawthorn berries have been used for centuries to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and the hardening of the arteries. The leaves and flowers also contain antioxidants which destroy free radicals and increase coronary artery blood flow.
Monascus: A purple-red mold which is used in red yeast rice, a principal component of fermented foods popular in China. Contains cholesterol lowering statins. The pharmaceutical drug Lovastatin, used to manage cholesterol, contains derivatives of monascus.
Taxillus chinensis: A type of mistletoe, taxillus increases blood movement, replenishes the kidneys and liver, and aids in increasing the movement of blood through the circulatory system.
Ligusticum sinense: Often harvested in spring and dried in the sun, most rhizomes (a type of root system) of ligusticum are grown in Hunan and Sichuan provinces in southern China. It has been shown to relieve hypertension, prevents cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. It also has tranquilizing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Panax notoginseng (Sanqi): Often referred to in TCM as “Sanqi”, panax notoginseng differs from other types of ginseng in that it is particularly effective in treating heart and blood flow issues. Sanqi lowers cholesterol, improves cardiovascular function, and also benefits the nervous and immune systems. It has also been shown to lower arterial wall pressure, increases coronary blood flow, prevent blood clots, and reduce cell damage. It also has the added bonus of inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer cells, a double benefit for men who have traditionally suffered from heart disease more than women (although the statistics on this have changed in recent years).
It is always of good benefit to be concerned about heart health. Increasingly, it is become an essential concern for the health of all Canadians. By taking steps to control blood pressure, manage cholesterol, and promoting healthy circulation, we can vastly improve the state of our health and help bring down the soaring rates of cardiovascular diseases. By utilizing these simple but effective remedies which have been used for thousands of years, we can all contribute to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier heart. Go on, have a heart!
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