One in every four deaths in the US is due to heart disease, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease or cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term to describe a wide spectrum of problems with the heart itself or the blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart, or both. Blocks in the blood vessels, problems with the heart’s muscles, abnormal rhythm of the heart, chest pain and improper functioning of the valves are all part of heart disease.
While some of the problems may be due to inborn defects or genetic factors, many others are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Quite a few of the risk factors for heart disease – a poor diet, being overweight or obese, and smoking and excessive alcohol consumption – are things well within our control. Persons who have already been diagnosed with heart disease need to take the medication their doctor has prescribed and also adopt a healthy lifestyle to remain healthy. Along with this, taking certain herbs that have been traditionally linked to a healthy heart can also prove useful in preventing further damage.
Most people know of cayenne pepper as the bright red fruit that is used to spice up food. Besides, people in South East Asia have always used it as a digestive and pain reliever, too. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin; researchers have found that this chemical helps reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, makes blood vessels more elastic and cuts the risk of blood clots developing. In other words, cayenne pepper is not merely a spice; it is good for your heart, too. 1,2
Garlic is one herb that is used all over the world for its medicinal properties right from curing the common cold to protecting from cancer. The sulfurous compounds in garlic give it not just the typical odor, but also these healing properties. Research shows that garlic is very useful for the heart because it prevents clotting of blood, improves blood circulation through the blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, increases production of HDL cholesterol and reduces production of LDL cholesterol. 3, 4
Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves, and this makes it a rich source of antioxidants such as epigallocatechin. These antioxidants prevent the free radical reactions within cardiac and vascular tissue that typically lead to inflammation and heart problems. Also, green tea has the effect of lowering production of LDL cholesterol and thus, it is one of the most effective herbal remedies for ensuring a healthy heart. 5
We know of ginger as being most useful against indigestion and motion sickness. However, in recent times, it has been gaining a lot of value as a cardio-protective herb. Ginger is rich in antioxidants, and these exert an anti-inflammatory action. Considering that inflammation is responsible for cardiac tissue damage, regular consumption of ginger can help prevent such damage and have a protective effect on heart health. Ginger has also been shown to improve circulation of blood, prevent clot formation and keep LDL cholesterol low. 6
Guggul is the resinous material obtained by making incisions on the trunk of the guggul tree; this resin has been used traditionally for its anti-inflammatory activity against arthritis and joint pain. The same action is now recognized as helpful to reduce the plaque formation on the arterial walls, contributing to normalization of blood pressure. Also, research shows that guggul can increase metabolic rate in the body leading to weight loss. Since being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for heart disease, guggul indirectly provides a cardio-protective effect, too. 7
One of nature’s best cardiotonics, arjuna has been found very useful to reduce blood pressure and improve the heart’s force of contraction. The flavonoids, tannins and saponis present in the bark of this tree have shown the ability to increase production of HDL cholesterol and reduce formation of LDL cholesterol, too. 8
Of all the remedies mentioned here, arjuna and guggul are powerful herbs; besides their cardio-protective properties, they have other effects too. Therefore, it is vital to avoid self-medication with these and instead, use the herbs under the guidance of a qualified practitioner of herbal medicine. Cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger and green tea are simpler to use as part of your regular diet. Another point worth mention is the fact that the use of these herbs alone cannot help you stay healthy if you have an unhealthy lifestyle. So, make your daily diet healthier, get enough physical activity and sufficient sleep and keep your mind stress-free to ensure your heart stays healthy.
1 Luo XJ, Peng J, Li YJ. Recent advances in the study on capsaicinoids and capsinoids. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jan 10;650(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2010.09.074. Epub 2010 Oct 12. Review. PubMed PMID: 20946891.
2 Kempaiah RK, Manjunatha H, Srinivasan K. Protective effect of dietary capsaicin on induced oxidation of low-density lipoprotein in rats. Mol Cell Biochem. 2005 Jul;275(1-2):7-13. PubMed PMID: 16335782.
3 1 Rahman K, Lowe GM. Garlic and Cardiovascular Disease: A Critical Review. J. Nutrition. March 2006, 136:3.
4 Banerjee SK, Maulik SK. Effect of garlic on cardiovascular disorders: A review. Nutr J. 2002; 1: 4. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-1-4. PMCID: PMC139960
5 Nagao T, Hase T, Tokimitsu I. A green tea extract high in catechins reduces body fat and cardiovascular risks in humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jun;15(6):1473-83. PubMed PMID: 17557985.
6 Ali BH, Blunden G, Tanira MO, Nemmar A. Some phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe): A review of recent research. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Feb;46(2):409-20. Epub 2007 Sep 18. Review. PubMed PMID: 17950516.
7 Ramesh B, Saralakumari D. Antihyperglycemic, hypolipidemic and antioxidant activities of ethanolic extract of Commiphora mukul gum resin in fructose-fed male Wistar rats. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry. 2012 May; 68 (4): 573-582.
8 Maulik SK, Katiyar CK. Terminalia arjuna in cardiovascular diseases: Making the transition from traditional to modern medicine in India. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2010 Dec;11(8):855-60. Review. PubMed PMID: 20874682.