It is heartbreaking to realize that heart disease is the number-one killer of men and women in Western civilization, especially because we are primary accomplices to this crime. Our high-fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, stressful environment, and various vices -- tobacco, alcohol, and many recreational drugs -- harden the heart and its arteries and increase the risk of heart disease and early death. Although we don't get jail time for these crimes, we suffer in other ways.
In addition to these various negative influences that weigh heavily upon the heart, we also tend to suffer from a deficiency in the positive experiences that lighten the heart's load. Love, joy, pleasure, humor, and other enriching feelings not only help us feel joyfully connected with others, but also may help keep open the arteries and veins so that our circulatory system is able to interconnect with all parts of our body in a healthy way.
Decrease Your Risk of Heart Disease
There are many influences that increase or decrease your risk of heart disease, but, like so many issues in medicine and science, there is probably more controversy than agreement on what exactly individuals should do to help themselves live longer, healthier lives. Even when the "experts" agree on some issue, it is always uncertain how long this agreement will last. There was, for instance, some consensus that salt was a significant factor in causing hypertension. Recent research, however, has shown that salt does not lead to hypertension in most people -- but only in those who are, for unknown reasons, sensitive to it.
Despite the various controversies and ambiguities of medical science, it is instructive to remember the words of author Norman Cousins, who said, "No one knows enough to be a pessimist about their own health." On this optimistic note, I encourage you to consider the following strategies, which may not only help you lead a longer, healthier life, but also a more joyful one.
For people on conventional antihypertensive drugs who choose to use one or more of the strategies below, make certain to watch your blood pressure carefully, because it may get too low. You may need to stop trying to heal yourself... or better yet, you may need to reduce your conventional medication.
If you don't use it, you lose it
Exercise! Medical associations usually encourage heart patients to consult with their physician before beginning an exercise program. Considering the therapeutic value of exercise upon the heart and a person's overall health, it seems wiser to see a physician if you do not choose to exercise. A sedentary lifestyle should only be available by prescription to people with a serious disorder. The best exercises for a healthy heart are those that exercise the long muscles, such as jogging, swimming, rowing, walking, and various running sports. Isometrics and weightlifting, on the other hand, can raise your blood pressure and should be avoided.
Walk, walk, walk
Although this is more of an "or so" strategy than a minute strategy, new research has shown that people who walk at least three hours per week at three to four miles per hour (this is steady walking, not "mall walking") have a diminished chance of getting heart disease. The additional good news is that you can read this book and walk at the same time!
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Jog with a 50-pound backpack. After one minute, you will discover how much extra stress this extra baggage places on you and your heart. If you're not at or near your optimal weight, you are continually stressing your heart. One option: If you simply maintain your present calorie intake for one year and increase your activity level by walking one mile a day, you will lose ten pounds.
Pretend you're Italian
Put garlic on everything! Garlic has been shown to prevent the formation of clots, lower blood pressure, reduce plaque formation, and even reverse established atherosclerosis. Garlic also boosts the high-density lipoproteins (the good guys!). If you cook with garlic, recent research has shown that it has considerably more health benefits if you cut fresh garlic and leave it sitting out for at least ten minutes before cooking with it. Brave people or hermits should try eating fresh cloves, while others can purchase the capsulated garlic (just make certain to get garlic pills from reputable companies).
Sow your oats (and other sources of fiber)
The water-soluble fiber from various grains, especially oats, is able to get into your arteries, break down cholesterol, and do some Roto-rooter cleaning. Psyllium, the primary ingredient in many fiber-rich products, has been found to significantly lower serum cholesterol. Other good sources of fiber are most whole grains and legumes, especially wheat, brown rice, lentils, and dried peas. Most fresh fruits and vegetables, especially apples, figs, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are also fiber-rich.
A carrot a day will keep heart disease away
Carrots are high in beta-carotene, which has been found to prevent coronary artery disease. Other vegetables rich in beta-carotene are spinach, cabbage, and orange and yellow fruits. In addition to eating these vegetables, it is highly recommended to take 50 mg of beta-carotene a day.
The following supplements can be helpful to the heart: 100-200 IU of vitamin E three times a day, 1,000-3,000 mg of vitamin C, 100 mcg a day of selenium, 200 mcg of chromium chloride, and 500-1,000 mg of calcium (calcium is especially important for postmenopausal women). Magnesium and potassium supplements are particularly important if you're taking diuretics.
Cooperate with Co-Enzyme Q10
Co-enzyme Q10 improves heart muscle oxygenation and is particularly important for people with hypertension, angina, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve prolapse. CoQ10 as its friends call it, is also an essential component of metabolic processes involved in energy production in the cell. This is a very helpful supplement for people with many kinds of heart disease. Take 60-100 mg per day.
Niacin to the rescue, too
Niacin has been shown to lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the body and increase the amount of good cholesterol. A decrease of 10 to 25 percent in cholesterol is common in people who either take niacin alone or with other supplements. It is recommended to increase the amount of niacin slowly. Start with 100 mg of niacin three times a day for the first three days, increase to 200 mg three times a day for the next three days, and then increase by 100 mg per dose every three days until you are taking 1,000 mg per dose three times a day. Niacin should not, however, be taken by people with liver disease, and it is best to take this supplement under the care of a physician.
Don't just supplement yourself
Just adding various supplements to a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet is not effective. The most effective way to get the most out of vitamins is to complement their use with a healthier, lower-fat diet.
Cut the fat out
To a person with heart disease, cutting down slightly on fats only marginally slows down the disease process. To make real headway and "heartway" it is necessary to significantly cut down on fats, especially animal fats. It is particularly important to avoid eating late at night because then whatever fat you eat goes into the bloodstream at a time when your circulation has slowed down, leading to increased chances of arterial blockage.
There are good fats in this world!
Essential fatty acids from flaxseed, evening primrose, or borage can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Take one to two tablespoons per day. There are also essential fatty acids in certain fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and herring.
Giggle with guggul
Guggul (Commiphora mukul) is one of India's most well-known and respected herbal remedies. A couple of studies have shown that it can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Take 500 mg per day.
Red yeast (Monascus purpureus), which is cultivated on rice, contains several important chemicals that help the body form the good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce production of the bad kind (LDL). Whether you take this in bulk or in pill form, it can be helpful. In pill form, it is recommended that you take four 600 mg capsules of standardized red yeast per day (one such product is called Cholestin).
It's tea time!
Black tea contains tannic acid, an astringent compound that has been found to lower cholesterol. Do not, however, brew your black tea too long, for taking larger doses of it can lead to indigestion.
To aspirin or not to aspirin
Although recent research has shown the benefits of aspirin to the heart, other research has shown that aspirin can have detrimental effects on the immune system. Aspirin not only blocks the anti-clotting effects of hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, but it also inhibits the infection-fighting action of the prostaglandins. There are safer means of preventing heart disease. If, however, you do decide to use aspirin to prevent blood clotting and a heart attack, take half an aspirin a day.
Don't mix grapefruit juice and calcium channel blockers
Grapefruit juice can dramatically increase the concentration of calcium channel blockers in the bloodstream and cause a medical emergency. Be careful about such "mixed" drinks.
Relax and relax again
Do whatever activities relax you, and consider using tried-and-true strategies such as meditation, yoga, and biofeedback that can help you reach deeper states of relaxation. Just as many people go to 'robics classes as a way to maintain a fitness program, it is also helpful to go regularly to yoga, meditation, or relaxation classes for the expert teaching and group support that will keep you on the program.
Relaxation is only a breath away
Proper breathing is not only relaxing, it can help oxygenate the blood and improve heart function. Most people breathe primarily with their chest, which encourages rapid, shallow breathing. A deeper and more relaxing breath is obtained through abdominal breathing. To practice abdominal breathing, sit comfortably with your back straight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Breathing in through your nose, notice the hand on your abdomen rise, while the hand on your chest hardly moves. Exhale as much as possible, even contracting your abdominal muscles so that they slightly massage internal organs. Breathe in again through your nose, and repeat this process for a couple of minutes several times a day. Although this type of breathing will feel uncomfortable at first, doing it more frequently will teach you to breathe more deeply, helping you to relax more fully and improve your health.
The hawthorn berry is one of the most common prescriptions made by German doctors to treat people with high blood pressure and angina. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and prevent deposits of cholesterol on arterial walls. This herb is available in pill and liquid extract forms. Take two capsules twice a day of the pill form, or take 20 to 40 drops twice a day of the liquid form. Consider also take cayenne pepper and/or ginger, preferably in pill form, to help distribute the healing effects of the hawthorn berries throughout your circulatory system.
Get hot, get cool
Stimulate circulation by alternating hot and cool showers. Do three minutes of each twice. As your heart and your courage strengthen, try using even cooler and hotter water.
Try pleasure therapy
Do whatever things you truly love -- not just because it feels good, but also because it's therapeutic.
The healing power of work
Work satisfaction is invaluable to a healthy heart. If your work is fulfilling you, this satisfaction warms the heart and lowers blood pressure. Research has also shown that people whose jobs are not secure are more apt to have higher levels of serum cholesterol and higher rates of heart attack.
Acknowledge fear, and release it
Fear is a primordial survival defense; it prepares a person for fight or flight. However, fear also raises blood pressure, and if you experience it for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to hypertension. Because we sometimes feel fear when neither a fight-or-flight response is appropriate, we are bottling up powerful emotions and disturbing our health. If you try to ignore your fears, they fester, while acknowledging them is the first step that helps bring light to the shadow. As Gandolf, one of the heroes in The Hobbit, once said, "We must go in the direction of our greatest fear, for therein lies our only hope." Because fear often rises its head when we ignore its roots, seeking to understand it helps to release it.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The remedies presented here have taken from the book: "The One Minute (or so) Healer" by Dana Ullman, MPH. While we present a few suggestions here, the book contains 500 simple ways to heal yourself naturally.)
The One Minute (or so) Healer
by Dana Ullman, MPH.
The One-Minute (Or So) Healer, drawing on a wide range of natural healing approaches including nutrition, yoga, homeopathy, massage, relaxation, and even humor, not only gets readers back on their feet, but also provides them with quick and easy ways to do so. Using a relaxed, humorous style, this guide addresses 31 common health problems along with 500 healing techniques.
About the Author
DANA ULLMAN M.P.H. has been certified in classical homeopathy by the leading organization in the U.S. for professional homeopaths. He is the founder of Homeopathic Educational Services which has co-published over 35 books on homeopathy with North Atlantic Books. Dana writes a regular column for the huffingtonpost.com website. His numerous books are available for purchase on Amazon by clicking here.