A recent article published in the New York Times has questioned the value of one of the sacred cows of the supplement industry: fish oil.
This is based on “10 large randomized studies involving 77917 high-risk individuals with the mean entry age of 64.0 years over a period of 4.4. years. It was found that the randomization of patients receiving omega–3 EFA’s had no significant association with myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease death, or overall.”
Various research studies also found no significant benefit for those taking fish oil to prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death.
Herbs for Cardiovascular Health
Marketing for fish oils tends to focus on benefits for cardiovascular health. However, in light of these recent studies, many might be ready to consider embarking on a regular herbal heart tonic regime which has thousands of years of proven efficacy.
Personally I take such herbs on a daily basis though, to my knowledge and based on cardiologist evaluation, I don’t have heart disease. For a few years I did have a slow irregular heart rhythm, but despite exhaustive evaluation there were no other symptoms. Perhaps due to using the herbs or making some other lifestyle adjustment, this condition has seemed to resolve itself.
Many elderly people experience occasional heart pain – a kind of minor angina. The following herbs can help, especially dan shen (red sage or Salvia milthiorrhiza), one of the most valuable cardiovascular herbs has never failed to correct this condition. This is because angina or heart pain is caused by blockage of circulation and dan shen, which combines both calming and circulation promoting properties, works very fast to resolve this condition.
Following is a list of my favorite cardiovascular herbs and herbal combinations formulated to optimize their efficacy. The formulas can be taken on a daily basis whether there are symptoms or not, just like one might use fish oil, to maintain cardiovascular health.
Tienchi ginseng (Panax notoginseng)
Although it is in the Ginseng family it is distinct from its more tonifying cousins. This herb is like gold to the Chinese. It uniquely promotes circulation, tonifies Blood and Qi, and astringes bleeding. Thus, it can be used for all bleeding disorders but also conditions such as angina caused by Blood stagnation. Tienchi can lower or raise blood pressure it according to what is needed. It is invaluable for all traumatic injuries but also any condition of abnormal excessive bleeding. It has a cool energy and lowers blood lipids.
Unfortunately, tienchi is becoming increasingly more expensive because of high demand. Click here for more information about this remarkable herb.
Dan shen (Red sage root, Salvia miltiorrhiza)
Unlike tienchi, this is a comparatively easy herb to cultivate and is easy to cultivate from seed. I was once solicited by a pharmaceutical company looking for the best herb to use for angina (heart pain) and blocked arteries from high lipids. I told them red sage is number one in my book for the cardiovascular system. Besides unblocking the cardiovascular system, we know that stress, anxiety and shock can bring on a heart attack. Red sage is also calming so has an effect on the emotional aspect associated with cardiovascular disease (a “broken heart”).
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
Hawthorn berry and leaf calm the spirit, promote blood circulationm and aid the digestion of protein and fat. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine classifies it as a special herb for digestion. Perhaps thanks to the phenomenal regard Western herbalists have for this herb, the Chinese now also recommend it for heart conditions.
Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna)
Arjuna tree bark has been used for several centuries for treating cardiovascular disease. It has many other benefits, including for the treatment of asthma. Arjuna strengthens the heart muscle by assisting in the utilization of oxygen. It is used as a preventive for patients susceptible to ischemic heart disease. It also treats mild to moderate hypertension, and lowers high triglycerides in the blood.
Guggul (Commiphora mukul)
Guggul is one of the most important botanicals in Ayurvedic medicine. Since Ayurveda may be even older than Chinese medicine, this says a lot. Guggul is the major substance for clearing out deep toxins in the body and freeing circulation. It is also one of the few herbs that treats hypothyroid conditions. It promotes the production of T4 thyroid hormone. Combined with the herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), arjuna assists the conversion of T4 to T3 which is the hormone responsible for energy production and maintaining high metabolism. At one time, medical science treated high blood lipids with thyroid hormone. This shows the close relationship between low energy (deficient Spleen Qi in TCM) and hypothyroid. This is not to say that all Spleen Qi deficiencies in TCM are caused by low thyroid, but probably most are.
The swollen tongue with scalloped edges is another sign that is associated with both Spleen Qi deficiency and low thyroid. Many people strive to detoxify their body with cold herbs and raw foods. By lowering metabolism, these individuals are at risk for a deeper level of toxicity because the body lacks the innate energy to discharge metabolic toxins. These are stubborn toxins and includes high blood lipids. These deep toxins in Ayurveda are called “ama” and possess degenerative oxidative effects. Ayurveda regards guggul as the primary substance for ‘scraping’ away these deep toxins. I recommend that everyone routinely use a combination of guggul and triphala to maintain circulatory and digestive health.
An Important Contraindication
Individuals who are already taking a prescribed blood thinning pharmaceutical should not take dan shen or any other blood moving herbs. The only exception to this might be tienchi ginseng because it both moves blood and stops bleeding. Even so, I would say to use caution and be sure your blood viscosity is being carefully monitored by your doctor.
Planetary Herb Formulas for Cardiovascular Health
Planetary Herbs, whose formulas where originally formulated by me, carries guggul, triphala and two formulas for cardiovascular health: Arjuna Cardio Comfort which combines arjuna, tienchi ginseng, guggul, red sage and hawthorn flowers and leaf. I recommend all elderly and individuals who want to maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system generally to take this formula daily.
Another formula which is good to alternate periodically is Hawthorn Heart. It contains tienchi, motherwort, hawthorn berry and leaf extract, Chinese red sage, polygala root, dang gui, and poria.
While the bad news may be that fish oil might not be all that we have come to believe it to be in terms of cardiovascular disease prevention, the good news is, we now have an opportunity to turn to herbs which have a much longer track record for promoting heart health.