With cardiovascular disease being responsible for killing one person in Australia every 12 minutes, it pays to ensure we are looking after our heart and blood vessels. And while medical treatments have focused on lowering risk factors with medications, or treating the end results of cardiovascular issues with surgery, as a society we have not made great inroads in this area, as cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death in the Western world. I feel this is because our system focuses too much on treating only the symptoms, not the underlying drivers of the condition, and I would dearly love to see a more holistic approach taken to this issue.
Nevertheless, I do see my share of people coming in to the clinic who come to see me for natural support for their cardiovascular issues (whether that be high blood pressure, cholesterol or simply a worrying family history). My approach is to look at the whole picture and address as much of the underlying cause(s) as possible. Thankfully, there are plenty of strategies that we can use that address nutrition and lifestyle factors such as omega-3 levels and stress, but I also love to use herbal medicines for cardiovascular issues too.
Herbs, you say?
Just as there are herbs that we use for digestive, immune, hormonal and energy support, there certainly are herbs that are my go-to when it comes to supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. Here are a few of my favourites:
Dan Shen/Red Sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza)
Dan Shen is a lovely Chinese herb that has traditionally been used to improve blood circulation, so it is one that I reach for in cases of chest pain caused by angina, a history of a previous heart event, and palpitations. In research, it has been shown to help relax blood vessels, making it a key herb for both blood pressure support and to protect the heart. It also has the bonus (like most herbs) of being rich in cell-protecting, anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous)
Astragalus, also from China, is a unique herb in that it can be used for a variety of health conditions. It is one of my favourite herbs to use to help nourish and restore a depleted immune system, and it is also known as an ‘adaptogen’ – meaning that it may help restore and maintain energy during times of stress. I often take astragalus as part of my daily herbal liquid blend when I feel like I am in need of a pep-up, or at the start of cold & flu season.
For the cardiovascular system, astragalus may be helpful to reduce blood pressure and support those suffering congestive heart failure.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
While we know that Hawthorn is a fabulous plant – because that is what Harry Potter’s wand was made of – it was actually well-known by herbalists before this! Hawthorn has been shown to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body, as well as exerting a protective effect on the heart – it is one. It is kind of a good ‘all-rounder’ for the heart as it possesses cholesterol-lowering properties.
In Germany, Hawthorn is regularly prescribed as a medical treatment for heart failure.
As always, I recommend seeing a qualified practitioner if you are considering using herbs for supporting your cardiovascular health. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to natural medicine, and clinically I find these herbs work best as part of a holistic treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause of heart problems. It is also vital to seek a professional’s advice if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking pharmaceutical medications alongside herbs.