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image of a heartHerbal Remedies for the Heart
By Dr. Winston Craig

           Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer in North America and Europe. The lifestyle that one chooses has a huge part to play in their risk of heart disease.   What you eat, how often you exercise, and how you manage stress will all determine how early you are plagued by heart disease.

           In addition, there are a number of herbs and spices that can also modify your risk of heart disease. Herbs can act in a number of ways. Some herbal products lower blood cholesterol levels, others can lower the risk of blood clots, and some are potent anti-oxidants that can inhibit atherosclerosis by decreasing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. In addition, some herbs improve circulatory function.

            Herbal products Imo\TI to provide useful treatment for elevated blood lipid levels include garlic, turmeric, and psyllium. Flaxseed and  guggul have also demonstrated the ability to lower blood lipid levels in patients with elevated cholesterol levels. More recently it has been shown that a one to two gram daily dose of stanol esters (added to some margarines) can produce a  10% reduction in  LDLJ cholesterol levels.

Garlic Rules

image of garlic          Garlic demonstrates a greater potency than any of its close relatives such as leeks, onions, shallots, and chives. The harvested garlic cloves can be used either fresh, dried, or powdered. The cut cloves have a pungent odor and strong flavor, due to the presence of alliin which breaks down to a host of active sulfur compounds.

          Studies have shown that garlic effectively reduces the risk of a heart attack and stroke. A regular use of garlic can lower blood cholesterol levels. On average, one-half to one clove of garlic per day can reduce elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels by about 10 percent. The failure of some recent clinical trials to significantly reduce elevated cholesterol levels resulted from the researchers using an inactive garlic preparation. Various formulations may differ in terms of standardized alliin content by as much as 20-fold.

            Too much haste in heating garlic inactivates it, and destroys the ability of alliin to produce useful sulfur compounds. Studies reveal that 60  secs of microwave heating or 45 minutes of oven heating destroys the important enzyme alliinase. Allowing  chopped or crushed garlic to "stand" for 10 min is essential before applying the usual heat treatment.

            Garlic  may lower blood pressure levels in some persons due to  its vasodilator properties. It is also successfully used to inhibit the  formation of blood clots. In a well-controlled clinical study in the elderly, high-dose garlic powder significantly reduced the growth of atherosclerotic plaque by almost 20 percent and even achieved a slight regression over a 4 year period.

            Garlic powders best represent the composition of fresh garlic cloves  than any other processed garlic.  In studies with aged garlic extract rt took about 6 months to lower blood lipids while garlic cloves and standardized garlic powder showed significant decreases after 1-2 months. Enteric-coated pills are used where odor control is desirable. To maintain good health it is recommended that a person consume about one clove of fresh garlic a day.

Onions and Ginger Provide Zest

ginger        In addition to garlic, ginger and onions contain compounds that inhibit thrombosis and are considered useful blood thinners. Onions are natural anticlotting agents since they possess substances which suppress platelets from clumping together. Persons taking coumarins and other anti-coagulants should use onions cautiously.

        The consumer trend to purchase the less pungent, milder onion varieties may not be wise, since the onions with a stronger flavor and more potent astringency have the highest level of antioxidants and superior health-promoting properties.

        Ginger has a characteristic odor and zangy taste. The diterpenoids in ginger lower the risk of blood clot formation and hence increase the bleeding time. The powerful diterpenes are as active in inhibiting blood clots as the sulfur compounds in  onions.

 The Taste of Turmeric

Turmeric         The warm spicy taste and bright gold of turmeric adds a richness to mashed tofu, rice, and curry powders. The bright pigment is  curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound and phenolic antioxidant that protects against cardiovascular disease by  nhibiting myocardial infarction, lowering serum cholesterol levels, inhibiting LDL oxidation, and preventing blood clot formation.




Some Seeds are Useful

          An extract of the seeds of grapes contain high levels of proanthocyanidins, potent flavonoid compounds that act as antioxidants that are more effective than either vitamin C or E. These compounds inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, protect the lining of the blood vessel wails, and improve venous tone. Grape seed extract reduces capillary permeability and fragility and is used for the treatment and prevention of vascular or circulatory disorders such as venous insufficiency, and peripheral vascular disease. Persons at risk of heart attack or stroke have also turned to grape seed extract for protection.

         The active ingredients of grape seed extract are similar to those found in pine bark extract commercially marketed as pycnogenol. Cranberries, blueberries, and other berries also contain the health-promoting proanthocyanidins.

           Flaxseed, is very rich in mucilaginous fiber, while its oil is very high in omega-3 fat. Flaxseed flour is commonly added to breads, cereals, and bakery to increase their nutritional and health benefits. Ground flax seed is useful for lowering serum cholesterol levels due to its soluble fiber content and its very low saturated fat content. When fifteen patients with elevated blood cholesterol levels were fed 15 g flax seed meal and 3 slices of flax seed-containing bread daily for three months, the patients experienced about a 10%  decrease in LDL cholesterol levels as well as a substantial decrease in risk of blood clots, while their HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels did not change.

          Soluble fibers such as those found in psyllium can augment the  cholesterol-lowering effect of a low-fat diet. The psyllium can be consumed either as a powder or as part of a fortified cereal. Food products containing psyllium are permitted to claim that psyllium fiber is useful for decreasing the risk of heart disease.

By Winston Craig, PhD
Andrews University

Books by Dr. Winston Craig