Health And Family

Must-herbs for heart health

CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano - The Philippine Star

We all probably heartily agree that our modern unhealthy lifestyle has taken a toll on our heart health. Scientists say that heart disease was rare among our ancestors. Today, people are opening their hearts to herbs to give their hearts a boost — and maybe even to mend a (literally) broken heart.

“Nothing can completely offset the effects of an unhealthy modern lifestyle, but in addition to eating healthily, exercising and not smoking, the use of humble herbs can reduce your risk of heart disease ... herbs do offer some of the best support for a healthy heart, especially when combined with exercise and a well-balanced diet,” says Kathi Keville, director of the American Herb Association, in her book Herbs for Health and Healing.

She gingerly adds this caveat: “No, I do not suggest that you toss your heart medication into the trash and head for the garden, but herbs can help keep many heart and circulation problems from getting worse and can even prevent some of the them from developing at all.”

Ginseng. Kathi writes that Russians wake up to a morning cup of Siberian ginseng tea. You can say that the Russians are fit to a “tea.” A study showed that Russian Olympic athletes who were given Siberian ginseng before training performed better than the group that did not take the herb. Kathi knows a lot of athletes who have benefited from taking ginseng to boost their endurance and energy levels minus steroids (which can increase blood pressure and decrease sex drive).

Studies show that ginseng helps improve cardiovascular health as well as muscle strength and stamina. But if you’re not an athlete looking to bulking up your muscles, you can simply settle for ginseng’s other benefits, like improving your mental agility.

Licorice. When it comes to boosting energy, another Olympic winner is licorice, but Kathi warns that it can sometimes raise blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.

Hawthorn. But which is the most reliable herb when it comes to heart health? It’s hawthorn, so herbalists howl in unison! Hawthorn helps in maintaining blood flow to the heart. In Germany, it’s an important ingredient in over 30 heart pharmaceutical preparations.

Chicory. Kathi writes that you can travel around the world and find an herb to cure your ailing heart.  In Egypt, there’s chicory that’s been found to slow a rapid heartbeat. But if you get a rapid heartbeat only when there’s a big sale at your favorite mall, you can also enjoy chicory as a nice and hearty salad or as a substitute for your caffeine fix (roasted chicory, anyone?).

Ginkgo, reishi. In China, there are herbs that have been traditionally used to treat heart-related problems, such as ginkgo and reishi. Ginkgo has been compared to a drug that’s used to lower blood pressure while the medicinal reishi mushroom is said to steady an irregular heartbeat — or to remedy a troubled heart, as the Chinese in 16th-century Ming Dynasty claimed.

Garlic. Of course, you’re familiar with garlic which studies show can keep the arteries healthy (lots of it) by thinning the blood and lowering cholesterol. It’s heartwarming to know that in places where people eat a whole clove of garlic, there is less incidence of heart disease.

Take heart, says, Kathi, because some of the best cholesterol busters are found right in your own kitchen, within an arm’s reach. Aside from garlic, we have onion, cayenne, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, and lemongrass.

Fenugreek. Fenugreek may sound Greek to you, but it’s one of the oldest cultivated medicinal herbs to lower cholesterol. It is also used as a beauty enhancer and sex stimulant. You can whip it up into a salad or use it as palate-pleasing marinade or flavoring.

Cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper, that red-hot favorite, is a herbal remedy for high blood pressure.

Turmeric. The much-touted turmeric (yellow ginger) is one Indian spice that can spice up your life, too. Studies show that it helps prevent high cholesterol even before it gets into the bloodstream.

Onion. Certainly, in onion, there is strength, so Kathi prescribes this recipe: Take three onions (which belong to the same family as garlic and share the latter’s healing benefits) or five cloves of garlic a week.

Lemongrass. Lemongrass, a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine (think lemongrass and citrus poached salmon), is also an antimicrobial and antidepressant (in case your beleaguered heart needs a lift).

Green tea. In Japan, neurologist Dr. Yoshikazu Sato stumbled on a herbal remedy for high blood pressure: green tea.  The doctor says that there are not as many deaths from stroke among Japanese women who drink green tea even if their diet contains large amounts of salt.

Kathi also writes that reducing your blood pressure could be just a sniff away. “... learn how blood pressure can be lowered simply by sniffing a cinnamon-apple blend ... Next time you feel your blood pressure rising, try biting into a fragrant apple or peeling an orange!”

And if we may add this unsolicited advice: Love your heart. Laugh more. Stress less.

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