08 February 2008

Natural approach to heart problems

Life style modifications like stopping smoking, eating correctly and exercising in combination with natural remedies and therapies can reduce or even reverse artery damage.


A heart attack is the death of heart muscle precipitated by the complete blockage of a diseased coronary artery by a blood clot.

Rather than waiting for warning signs of cardiovascular disease, think about what you can do now to prevent it. Even if you have been diagnosed with angina or have had a heart attack, you can still play an active role in preventing disease progression.

Life style modifications like stopping smoking, eating correctly and exercising in combination with natural remedies and therapies can reduce or even reverse artery damage.

Natural remedies

What to do

1. Stop stressing
Stress accelerates your heart rate through secretion of the adrenal stress hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol. So attend some stress management courses or learn some daily stress management techniques to help you cope and you might just save your heart.

2. Change your diet
Avoid foods that contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Limit fat to 30% of your daily calories by balancing occasional high-fat foods with low-fat choices, such as fruits, vegetables and grains.

Control your sugar. If you are diabetic, make sure your sugar control is as strict as possible since this will also delay the process of atherosclerosis (the narrowing of coronary arteries because of the accumulation of cholesterol plaque on their inside walls).

3. Exercise
Choose aerobic activity such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging or cycling. Gradually work up to exercising 30 to 45 minutes at least three times a week.

4. Address your energy issues
According to the principles of energy medicine, one has to look at heart disease and specifically heart attack, from an energy perspective, where stress, work pressure, perfectionism, the subjective experience of not being loved well enough, relationship problems, and so on, plays an important role.

The heart is situated in the area of the fourth chakra that has to do with issues of unconditional love. The following energy issues need to be addressed when looking at a heart attack: your ability to manage emotional stress, interpersonal relationships, empathy with yourself and others, the inner drive to always be in control of situations.

5. Get your homocystein levels checked
The estimation of homocystein (a sulphur containing amino acid) levels in the blood, is a very efficient way to determine the risk for heart disease. It is an inexpensive test. High levels indicate a high risk for heart disease and stroke: accumulated homocystein damage the inner lining of the arteries, and encourages the formation of plaque (atherosclerosis or thickening of the arteries).

The treatment is cheap, simple and extremely effective: take 400 IU’s vitamin E; 50mg vitamin B6, 50 microgram B12; and 400 microgram folic acid every day. This ensures the conversion of homocystein into beneficial antioxidants. People with a genetic tendency for high homocystein levels, often have a deficiency of these nutrients.

6. Go for regular medical check-ups
Don’t wait for a catastrophe to happen before changing your lifestyle.

7. Meditation and visualisation
In all cultures and religions, the experience of peace, love, healing and harmony are seated in the heart chakra or heart region in the chest, writes Dr Arien van der Merwe. Research now shows that the heart does have an effect on our health and happiness!

If, for instance, you focus on or visualise feelings of love, peace and gratitude, your breathing and heart rate slow down, and become synchronised and harmonious. Meditation has a similar effect. Feelings of love also have a positive influence on the immune system, hormones and cognitive brain function.

8. Love more
According to Dr Arien van der Merwe, another interesting factor that has been illuminated by Dr Dean Ornish (American cardiologist and designer of the world renowned Heart Disease Reversal Programme) as being the most important contributing factor to heart health, is that of love and intimacy (from close relationships).

Research has shown that people in Japan and France have very close family and friendship links, signifying the perception they have of having a support system in times of trouble. Lack of love and intimacy has been shown to be the most consistent predictor of heart disease!

This is a more consistent factor than genetics and risk factors such as obesity, too little exercise, high LDL-cholesterol, poor nutrition and smoking. Even some of the risk factors can be attributable to lack of social interaction and feeling isolated and alone. People smoke, drink, or overeat as an ineffective, harmful way of stilling the mind from the stressful monkey chatter, to try and prevent the emotions from surfacing.

9. Adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle
The countries around the Mediterranean Sea also have a daily siesta time after their phyto (plant) nutrient, fish and olive oil rich lunch as part of their cultural habit – this lowers stress levels by allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to re-balance the sympathetic or stress nervous system response.

What to take

1. Herbal help
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.

The following herbs work well to support the heart and cardiovascular system: garlic, Ginkgo biloba, hawthorn berry (Crateagus oxyacanthus) and ginseng.

Some herbs work well in the prevention of heart disease, for example:

  • Add warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and cloves to food or make a herbal tea out of them, because they can improve arterial health by stimulating circulation and dilating blood vessels in the arms and legs.
  • Three cups of gingko biloba herbal tea a day can help counter inflammation of the artery walls and can prevent the formation of harmful oxidized cholesterol.
  • Garlic, whether fresh or in tablet form, can reduce high blood pressure and can aid in the smooth circulation of blood. Garlic also lowers the cholesterol level and reduces the oxidation of "bad" cholesterol.
  • Other herbs that lower blood pressure include rauwolfia and skullcap.

There are also herbs that are used for the treatment of heart disease:

  • Hawthorn is regarded as one of the safest herbs for the treatment of heart disease as it is invaluable in correcting high blood pressure.
  • Other herbs for the treatment of high blood pressure include buchu and dandelion tea or tincture.

2. Supplements
The following micronutrients support heart function: antioxidants like vitamin A, E, C, carotenoids, minerals zinc, selenium, copper; minerals calcium and magnesium; amino acids L-carnitine and N-acetyl-l-cystein, co-enzyme Q10 and the essential fatty acids such as evening or starflower and cold water salmon oil.

Research has shown that taking 400 IU’s Vitamin E per day lowers the risk for a heart attack up to 77%. 100 IU’s per day lowers it by 43%.

Natural supplements such as Grapeseed extract and Bromelain (an enzyme derived from pineapples) can also lower your risk of arterial disease.

This article was written by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB). You can order her following books, published by Tafelberg, in English and Afrikaans online at
Health & Happiness
Geluk & Gesondheid
Herbal Remedies
Kruie met Geneeskrag


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Mental health & your work »

How open are you about mental illness in the workplace?

Mental health in the workplace – what you can do to help

If you know that one of your colleagues suffers from a mental illness, would you be able to help them at work? Maligay Govender offers some helpful mental health "first aid" tips.

Sleep & You »

Sleep vs. no sleep Diagnosis of insomnia

6 things that are sabotaging your sleep

Kick these shut-eye killers to the kerb and make your whole life better – overnight.