February is Heart Month, the perfect time to enhance your heart health with some complementary and alternative treatments. Here are 14 ways to give your heart some love.
Acupuncture’s role in the treatment of chronic pain is well-established, but did you know that acupuncture can also help lower blood pressure? Nearly 67 million people in the U.S. suffer from high blood pressure, many of them undiagnosed or untreated. Regular acupuncture in a specific pressure point at the elbow can help release neurotransmitters that regulate the cardiovascular system.
The power of positivity may seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it turns out that research is proving that a more positive outlook can actually reduce stress and lower blood pressure. A study by the HeartMath Institute (HMI) found that positive-emotion refocusing – shifting your thoughts to something positive when stress arises – resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure after three months of practice. Twelve percent of participants were actually able to stop taking blood pressure medications.
3. T’ai chi
This slow-moving ancient Chinese martial art can offer the same positive health benefits with the additional benefit of mental calmness and tranquility. T’ai chi is often described as a “moving meditation” that is able to lower stress levels and blood pressure concurrently. The slow but intense movements of t’ai chi offer an additional benefit. A study in the British Journal of Medicine found that not only did t’ai chi lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure but it also trimmed up to an inch off the midsection. Excess fat on the waistline is a risk factor for heart disease.
Mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, mantra: whatever type you choose, sitting and staying focused on breath seems to promote heart health in a number of different ways, not the least of which is alleviating stress. Meditation can also help to cope with unexpected situations that would cause undue stress.
Doctors recommend regular cardiovascular exercise for heart health, but for some people this can be challenging. High-impact cardiovascular exercise may be difficult for those with pain in the joints or other conditions.
For years, many have believed that yoga was not a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, but recent research has shown that when compared to regular aerobic exercise, yoga conferred the same benefits for weight loss, blood pressure reductions, and lowered cholesterol. This certainly depends on the type of yoga practiced, but for those who are just starting out with exercise or who struggle with physical limitations, yoga can be the perfect way to increase strength and flexibility safely.
Proponents of this ancient Chinese medical practice believe that it promotes cellular regeneration, relaxation, mental focus, and altered neurochemistry that focuses on healing. Qigong combines breath, mantra, and movement to move energy through the body. This technique can be combined with t’ai chi for even more benefit, but when necessary it can also be practiced while seated or lying down.
Ayurveda is an alternative treatment that is based on the idea that people are ruled by one of three doshas: vata, pitta, and kappha. Each of these doshas have particular characteristics, and each should be cared for with specific types and amounts of food, drink, and herbs. A qualified naturopathic doctor can help you discover your dosha and design changes in diet and activity for optimal, whole-body health and wellness.
8. Music therapy
Music therapy for recovering heart patients has been shown to offer the same benefits as more traditional post-operative treatments but with zero side effects and with ease of treatment. Research into this alternative therapy is limited, but the studies that do exist have demonstrated profound impacts of music therapy on some patients.
9. Chiropractic care
Palmer Chiropractic College has recently published several studies indicating that regular chiropractic care may prevent heart attacks, lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, relieve chest pain, and support the cardiovascular system.
10. Dietary changes
Omega-3 fatty acids, including those found in fish and flaxseed, are often touted as a way to promote heart health and prevent heart disease. While naturally-occurring omega-3s do seem to have some protective effect, those omega-3s found in supplements seem to have no statistically significant benefit to heart health.
11. Hawthorn extract
Well-conducted, scientifically valid studies have shown that hawthorn extract is a valid complementary therapy for treatment of patients suffering from stage II heart failure. Treatment with hawthorn extract in a double-blind, randomized trial was shown to have more benefit than placebo.
12. Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice has a somewhat controversial history. It has been proven effective in some trials at performing the same functions as lovastatin, namely, decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Red yeast rice has naturally-occurring monacolin K, the same active ingredient as lovastatin but with one major difference: there is no guarantee of purity or of the amount of monacolin K. Excessive levels of monacolin K have been shown to result in abnormal liver function, so this therapy should be approached with caution.
This “healing touch” focuses on changing the energy field of the body through manipulation of a person’s energy field. Although it may sound very alternative and quite impossible, there is some promising research that reiki techniques do, in fact, offer deep relaxation and stress relief, both of which can be very beneficial to heart health. Reiki has also been shown to reduce anxiety and increase positive emotional states.
14. Regular checkups
Perhaps the most important piece in the puzzle of heart health is prevention. Regular checkups with your primary care physician may save your life. A trusted primary care physician knows you, your history, and your risk factors for heart disease. With the Affordable Care Act, annual preventative checkups are free and good for your overall health and well-being.
Before trying any of these treatments, it is crucial to talk to your doctor, especially if you are already being treated for a cardiovascular condition (or any other illness). These alternative therapies may help boost heart health, but it is important to work with your regular health care provider to design a comprehensive, holistic treatment plan.