Cardiovascular disease affects 1 in 3 Americans. Every minute, on average, a person dies of a heart attack. This is tragic. It is no wonder that the pharmaceutical industry has risen to provide solutions. The American Heart Association’s website lists 11 different categories of cardiovascular medications “that you will take for the rest of your life.” But very few of these drugs have shown efficacy and most will eventually trigger more disease. Medications may be a part of the protocol, but they should not be where we start, especially if the goal is prevention. We must begin with the cause in mind.
As the predominant risk factor for any type of cardiovascular event, a diagnosis of hypertension is almost synonymous with cardiovascular disease. It is important to understand that hypertension is not a disease. Elevated blood pressure is a reading on a machine, an effect of some cause. Treating blood pressure with drugs gives the patient a feeling of confidence while doing nothing toward finding or resolving the underlying cause.
Chronic inflammation is the number one contributing factor to hypertension, and by extension, cardiovascular disease. But inflammation is a wound healing response. What is causing damage to the heart or vascular system that requires this response? And why isn’t it self-limiting? We might also ask which came first, deterioration of blood vessels and heart tissue or the elevated blood pressure?
Undiagnosed nutrient deficiencies need to be considered. Processed foods, altered fats and artificial sweeteners, among other food products, may be contributing toxic by-products and depleting nutrients, causing imbalances. Salt intake, commonly restricted in those with hypertension and cardiovascular risk, contributes less to the overall picture than the ratio of sodium to potassium. A diet that is whole, unaltered and natural, tailored to the individual, is the most important way to prevent or mitigate hypertension. The primary components of a diet that will promote self-healing are:
- Eliminate bleached white flour. This is the “old poisoner” and contributes to everything we’re trying to correct.
- Increase beets. A natural source of betaine, beets are an impressive detoxifier of the liver. They support methylation, improve bile flow and fat digestion, balance blood sugar and help with carbohydrate metabolism. They are rich in dietary nitrates which your body can convert to nitric oxide for improved blood flow.
- Eat buckwheat. This prevents blood clots and improves vascular health. Buckwheat is a great food source of magnesium, which is important for all forms of cardiovascular disease. Low magnesium is associated with all symptoms of angina, arrhythmias, and heart disease, as well as diabetes, which is a driver of cardiovascular disease.
- Add fresh garlic. Garlic (Allium sativum) is the single most researched herb. It clears arterial plaque and is effective against all four classes of pathogens: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It supports bowel flora and corrects deficiencies. Garlic has a similar function to HDL cholesterol (the so-called “good cholesterol”), but works in a completely different way, making it a great preventative for cardiovascular disease.
- Supplement with Hawthorne. The leaves and flowers of Hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna) are very important for cardiovascular health. It is cardiotonic, prevents hardening of the arteries, promotes vascular elasticity, and maintains peripheral circulation. Most notably, it is normotensive: as an adaptogen, it will raise low blood pressure or lower high blood pressure, as needed. Traditionally, Hawthorne has been known as the “the nurse of the geriatric heart.”
Along with these dietary recommendations, of course, is exercise. The heart is a muscle and, as such, needs exercise to stay strong. As blood moves and oxygenation improves, the vascular system is strengthened and circulation improved, allowing the heart to pump more effectively.
Hypertension often accompanies cardiovascular disease and stroke, but it is not necessarily the whole picture. In treating the entire person, we must understand the roots of cardiovascular disease and address it in a wholistic manner. By seeking out the source of the problem and providing the nutritional and herbal catalysts to restore the body to a healthy state, you will be more successful in preventing cardiovascular events from happening in your practice.
Article written by Brenda Elving in collaboration with Dr. Michael Gaeta
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