A considerable body of scientific research shows that herbs and nutritional supplements have substantial effects for prevention as well as treatment of mild to moderate heart disease. While emergency situations are best handled medically, there have been studies in which patients with more severe, chronic heart conditions (who are not responding to standard medical treatments) have shown improvement with herbal or other nutritional alternatives. Many of these are considered standard medical protocols by physicians in Europe and Asia.
In order to understand the benefits described in the research on these alternatives, it is important to know the medical classification system commonly employed for heart disease. Heart disease is often graded by severity:
class 1: given to patients without symptoms when
at rest and on treatment
In Germany one of the most frequently prescribed treatments for heart conditions is the herb hawthorn (Crataegus orycantholdes). Germany, like many European countries, has a government agency called the Kommission E which produces official monographs guiding the safe prescription, usage and manufacture of herbal medicines. Amongst current monographs is one on hawthorn which states that it is useful for heart insufficiency (classes 1 and 2) by strengthening heart contractions, lowering blood pressure and lowering pulse rate, as well as improving physical work capacity and anaerobic capacity (the ability to continue functioning in low oxygen conditions). The berry from hawthorn is widely employed for arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats, palpitations), high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries.
Clinical and laboratory research findings abound that hawthorn may be beneficial in treating heart conditions, including arrhythmia, angina, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. These findings suggest that hawthorn may be effective through class 3 but is generally not considered strong enough for class 4 (see "Highlights of Hawthorn Research" above).
Clinical trials have also found benefits in the elderly with no heart conditions but simply deteriorating heart function with age (Hoffmann 1995). In older patients hawthorn is considered gentler than the drug digitalis and may actually improve the tolerance for digitalis. Unlike digitalis, hawthorn is not effective in correcting a complete failure because it does not contain the same chemical compounds (Weiss 1988). Hawthorn is reported to be beneficial for heart complaints during menopause, anxiety and nervous disorders (Hobbs & Foster 1990). There is limited preliminary research showing that hawthorn relieves muscle tension and promotes relaxation and sleep (Djumlija 1994) (Chang & But 1986). These are factors that may be beneficial in heart conditions.
The German Kommission E monograph notes no contraindications or side effects for the use of hawthorn. However; in combining hawthorn with medications, it is best to consult with your physician or pharmacist.
Highlights of Hawthorn Research
* A four year study on the benefits of hawthorn, commissioned by the German Ministry of Health, found that it improves contractions in the veins and heart while dilating the heart. This increases blood flow in the heart as well as flow speed throughout the body for increased circulation to organs and musculature. The researchers concluded that hawthorn is best used for low heart function, congestion, arrhythmia and tightness in the chest and no side effects were noted (Hoffmann 1995).
* In a German clinical trial with 78 patients with class 2 congestive heart failure, hawthorn flower and leaf increased heart working capacity, lowered blood pressure and improved fatigue and endurance while relieving difficult breathing (Schmidt, et. al. 1994). Comparable results from other clinical trials for class 2 as well as class 3 patients have been reported (Hobbs & Foster 1990).
* In a controlled Chinese clinical trial with 46 patients suffering from angina, a Chinese variety of hawthorn decreased the number of angina attacks by 85% compared to 37% on placebo (Weilang, et. al. 1984). Other clinical trials have found comparable results for varieties of hawthorn (Weiss 1988) (Chang & But 1986).
* A German clinical trial with 18 healthy patients found that hawthorn lowered heart rate and blood pressure during exercise and maintained resting heart rate while elevations were noted in the control group (Hellenbrecht, et. al. 1990).
* Chinese laboratory and clinical trials have reported that hawthorn lowers cholesterol and triglycerides by improving excretion (Chang & But 1986). Hawthorn is also reported to increase urination (DJumlija 1994) (Hoffmann 1995), often an important modality in heart condinons.
* Laboratory studies suggest that hawthorn's
actions on the heart and circulatory system may be
created through effects on the central nervous system (Foldi, et. al. 1959). Oxygen
levels increase in the heart and provide a better
balance of oxygen supply and demand (Lianda, et. al. l984).
Horsetail, or Equisetum arvense, has a long history of traditional use in folk herbalism for strengthening connective tissue and relieving water retention. Several older research papers have reported that horsetail helps to control bleeding in hemorrhages and markedly increases the number of blood corpuscles and physical energy (Gibelli 1931) (Buchi & Dolder 1950) (Bradley 1992), as well as providing mild diuretic effects (Bradley 1992). It is reported to contain approximately 2 to 3% elemental silicon (Bradley 1992) which is necessary for maintaining flexible arterial walls and plays an important role in the prevention of heart conditions. Silicon levels decline as we age, so higher levels are needed by the elderly who are most at risk for heart disease (Balch & Balch 1997).
Other Nutritional Supplements
Many nutritional substances are linked to heart health.
Calcium, magnesium and potassium are essential for
healthy heart muscle function and the research findings
on these minerals have been well publicized in recent
Chromium picolinate has received fresh publicity as a mineral supplement for weight loss and blood sugar balance but few are aware that it plays an important role in heart health as well. Deficiencies of chromium are considered a marker for coronary arterial disease and increase the risk of arteriosclerosis. Chromium lowers cholesterol levels while improving the ratio of the "good" cholesterol to the "bad" (Balch & Balch 1997).
Deficiencies of the mineral selenium are associated with the development of elevated cholesterol levels and cardiomyopathy (chronic heart muscle disorder). Weaknesses in the heart muscles of grazing livestock have been noted in areas with selenium deficient soils (Werbach 1996) (Balch & Balch 1997). Due to decades of chemical farming practices which deplete the land of many minerals over time, selenium and chromium deficient soils in produce and grazing farmland are quite common (Balch & Balch 1997).
There has been considerable press in recent years about the researched benefits of antioxidants in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Selenium and vitamin C are two of the most important antioxidants in the nutritional world and are frequently recommended for those with heart conditions to protect against stroke and stroke related damage. Vitamin C also provides protection against capillary breakage or leakage and excessive clotting and helps lower high cholesterol levels (Balch & Balch 1997) (Werbach 1996). Hawthorn is reported to contain significant amounts of a specific class of f!avonoids (chemical relatives of vitamin C). These particular f!avonoids have potent "vitamin P" action which maintains capillary wall strength while increasing intracellular vitamin C levels (Murray 1995).
Research on the amino acid taurine suggests that it may be beneficial for those patients with congestive heart failure conditions. In a clinical trial with 14 patients where the patients served as their own control group via a crossover study design, 79% improved with 4 weeks of taurine supplementation compared to 21% on placebo. This included improvements in functional class, heart crackles, chest film disturbances and heart failure scores which were highly significant during taurine treatment and without change on placebo. No side effects or interactions with conventional medications used during the trial were noted (Werbach 1996). Additionally, taurine has demonstrated benefits for those with hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. It is essential for proper sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium metabolism and may protect the heart muscle from potassium depletion which could lead to serious irregularities in the heartbeat. Deficiencies may also cause abnormalities in blood platelet function (Balch & Balch 1997).
The amino acid arginine may
also be critical in maintaining heart and circulatory
health because it is the only source for nitric oxide,
all essential substance for healthy blood vessel
function and structure. Supplementation with arginine helps
to restore healthy function to the blood vessels,
including relaxing the walls, which may be beneficial in
high blood pressure conditions (Weil
These herbal and nutritional substances are valuable tools in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, along with appropriate changes in the diet, increased exercise, stress reduction, meditation and other lifestyle changes. With these healthful resources at your fingertips you can safeguard yourself against heart disease.
See Kroeger's Circu-flow - it has all these ingredients already combined in it.
This Herbal Insights Reflections is from the Fall 1997
edition of Herbal Insights. Herbal Insights is a
publication of Kroeger Herb Products Co., Inc. 805
Walnut St. Boulder CO 80302
The positive impact of essential oils is about more
than just a soothing smellthe oils actually affect the
central nervous system, earlier research has shown. That
means the oils have a physiological effect on your body
and your mind: While some can help you chill out after a
frenzied day at the office, others can boost your energy
after its zapped by holiday shopping lines, or even
relieve physical ailments like inflammation, congestion,