We’ve officially hit February and that means it’s Heart Health Month! I’m so grateful for the American Heart Association raising awareness for heart health and especially their movement Go Red for Women advocating for women’s heart health! Being in the natural medicine realm, I wanted to highlight a fundamental therapy that we have under our belt to prevent and treat heart disease. For those seeking integrative medical treatment, you will find that botanical medicine, will be a large part of your treatment plan. There are several herbs that have an affinity to the heart and support circulation, blood pressure, heart rate, rhythm and so much more! Botanical medicine is different from pharmaceutical medication in several ways. One of the biggest differences is that you can 100% customize each formula to each patient. The use of multiple herbs and their variable actions allows you to target each persons specific needs to get them to optimal heart health. The use of herbs in conjunction with your medications can be safe if you are properly supervised by your Naturopathic Physician! In this two part post I will introduce some herbs that have strong heart actions, and given to the right patient could have fantastic health outcomes!
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)Hawthorn is one of the more infamous herbs for heart health. Its leaves, flowers and berries contain oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) and flavonoids. These constituents are powerful antioxidants that have key roles in protecting your cardiovascular system. Notable Actions:
- Hawthorn is known for its overall effect on the heart and is often referred to as “food for the heart” because of its nutritional support for the heart muscle. Energetically it also has an affinity to the heart and it has been used to treat both broken and closed hearts and to protect a heart that is too readily opened2.
- It has a mild blood pressure lowering effect because of the action on angiotensin converting enzyme. This effect is similar to a class of pharmaceuticals called ACE inhibitors which contains medicines such as Lisinopril and Benazepril1.
- The high antioxidant status of Hawthorn gives the heart more resiliency against injury, free radical attack and normal wear and tear of aging. These antioxidants also may reduce plaque formation and inflammation in the blood vessels.
- These OCPs and flavonoids increase the circulation of blood in your heart, increase energy stores and calcium in heart cells, and increase force of contraction.
- Crataegus spp. has been shown to be a mild peripheral circulatory stimulant, increasing blood flow to your extremities5.
- For patients experiencing angina (commonly known as chest pain), Hawthorn may add some benefit because of its anti-anginal, spasmolytic properties; meaning it may have the ability to relax the blood vessels, decreasing chest pain that has a spastic component5.
Lime Flower (Tilia spp.)Tilia is a very safe and gentle herb that must be used consistently at therapeutic doses to have maximum effect. You use the flower medicinally for a variety of different health concerns. The flower contains flavonoids, mucilage, phenolic acids, tannins and volatile oils. Notable Actions:
- This safe and very gentle herb is used in combination formulas to decrease fast heart rate, or palpitations especially when it is associated with anxiety of nervous feelings2.
- It is used to lower blood pressure when it is caused by anxiety or plaque build up, due to its ability to promote relaxation2.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)Angelica sinensis is typically associated with its amazing actions on the female reproductive tract, but it also has strong actions on the heart muscle! The medicinal part of the herb is the root, that provides the beneficial constituents. Notable actions:
- In animal studies, it has been shown to decrease blood pressure, dilate/relax the blood vessels feeding the heart, and decrease cholesterol3.
- In other studies, it helped produce a growth factor that increases the production of more blood vessels (VEGF). This is important because of the effects it could have on the heart, creating new micro-blood vessels, after heart attacks4.
- The actions of lowering blood pressure may be by the same mechanism as a pharmaceutical class called calcium channel blockers5. Medications in this group include Verapamil, and Diltiazem.
- Angelica sinensis may have mild red blood cell building ability, by stimulating the bone marrow5.
- Cardiovascular Botanical Monographs; Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine Botanical Medicine Department (2016)
- Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. Boca Raton: CRC press; 1993. pp 247-248
- Meng H, Guo J, Sun JY, et al. J cell Biochem. 2008;103(1);195-211
- Yarnell, E. (2015, December 18). Compendium of Pharmacological Actions of Medicinal Plants and Their Constituents.