Herbs still maintain a central position in orthodox medicines treatment of various heart problems. Plants that contain cardiac glycosides are used throughout the world for the treatment of heart failure and some arrhythmia's. In such conditions these herbs increase the strength of heart beat, and normalize the rate of beat. Their real value lies in the increased efficiency not necessitating an increase of oxygen supply to the heart muscle. In heart problems there is often a deficiency in blood supply because of blockage in the coronary arteries. It is not just Foxglove that has such valuable actions. Lily of the Valley shares its therapeutic value but has fewer side effects and lower toxicity. However, herbal remedies nurture the heart in deeper ways as well. Consider the cordial, a warming drink and a word for heart-felt friendliness. The original cordial was a medieval drink based on Borage that warmed the heart and gave the person HEART.
The Medical Herbalist recognizes a broad range of relevant herbs for the cardiovascular system. As a group they are known as cardiac remedies. This is a general term for herbs that have an action on the heart. Some of the remedies in this group are powerful cardio-active agents such as Foxglove, while others are gentler and safer cardiac tonics such as Hawthorn and Linden Flowers. Cardio-actives owe their effects on the heart to active substances such as cardiac glycosides, thus having the both the strengths and drawbacks of these constituents. Cardiotonics have a beneficial action on the heart and blood vessels but do not contain cardiac glycosides.
Primary Actions for the Cardio-Vascular System
Cardiac Tonic: Hawthorn
Cardio-active: Lily of the Valley, Scots Broom, Bugleweed, Figwort
Circulatory Stimulant: Cayenne
Peripheral Vaso-dilator: Prickly Ash, Ginkgo
Hypotensive: Linden Blossom, Mistletoe, Garlic
Diuretic: Dandelion leaf, Yarrow, 'Cardio-actives'
Vascular Tonic: Horsechestnut, Buckwheat, Ginkgo
Nervine: Motherwort, Linden Blossom, Valerian, etc.
Anti-spasmodic : Cramp Bark, Valerian
Lifestyle & Risk Factors
Half the annual mortality in Western society results from heart and blood-vessel diseases and so any contribution that herbal medicine can make to its treatment is to be welcomed. Heart disease is often the result of an inappropriate life style; stress, diet, belief system, alcohol etc. etc.. Preventative measures are by far the best, but are people willing to change? This raises questions that herbal medicine cannot answer!
The origins of heart disease are complex and confusing. Some of the factors involved are well known and can lead to clear guidelines for possible prevention, but simplistic statements about saturated fats or jogging can be misleading. A number of factors that contribute to the scourge of heart disease have been identified and as many of the pathologies that assail the cardiovascular system share these components, similar preventive strategies apply as well.
- Age & Sex
The older an individual is the more likely they become to develop cardiovascular disease. Thus the risk of heart attack is 4 times greater for a man of 50 than a man of 30. Such problems are unusual in pre-menopausal women although after menopause the incidence in women is the same as for men.