LUB-DUB! February is Heart Health Month – Learn how to prevent heart issues using complementary medicine!

Cardiovascular disease consists of disorders involving the heart, blood vessels and the circulating blood. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, the first is cancer. Worldwide, heart disease is the primary cause of death. 

Also known as coronary artery disease, heart disease occurs when the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle become compromised. This occurs because of a buildup of cholesterol plaque within the arteries. Overtime, as the arteries become more and more clogged the blood flow to the heart is reduced. This reduction in flow increases the risk of a heart attack. 

A heart attack occurs when a portion of the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen-rich blood due to a blockage. This results in a breakdown of the cells within that region of the heart. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest, arms, left shoulder, jaw, back or neck. 
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Cold sweat
  • Pale 
  • Light headedness or feeling faint
A woman sitting in the lotus position with her legs crossed.

Similarly, a stroke involves a lack of blood supply to the brain. This can be caused by either a rupture of a blood vessel (commonly known as a hemorrhage), or from the formation of a clot which results in the blockage of blood to the brain tissue. Typical signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking and/or understanding speech
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty with walking, balance or coordination 
  • Severe headache with no known cause 
  • Fainting or unconsciousness

Individuals experiencing these symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. Early detection and emergency treatment have improved outcomes and reduced cardiovascular-related deaths throughout North America. 

The likelihood of death due to cardiovascular disease increase when symptoms are severe and underlying risk factors are not addressed. The INTER-HEART study identified nine key risks factors that were associated with developing cardiovascular disease, specifically a heart attack. 

The nine risk factors include: 

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Psychological factors (stress)
  • Low consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Regular alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity

 Not surprisingly, smoking and high cholesterol accounted for two thirds of the risk for heart disease worldwide. These risk factors are modifiable and preventable. Making healthier choices such as quitting smoking, having a diet rich in vegetables, reducing stress and staying active regularly can significantly reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack. Other factors such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, family history, and genetics are classified as non-modifiable risk factors and play a role in cardiovascular disease. 

Regular heart checkups and thorough assessments by your doctor are important to help identify your risk factors and develop prevention strategies to help decrease the risk of stroke and heart attacks. 

Recently, there has been an interest in natural medicines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. There have been studies and research supporting the benefits of natural options. Let’s explore some natural medicines below: 

Garlic: Garlic has been valued for its beneficial effects on health. Freshly crushed garlic contains allicin, a potent compound that gives garlic its unique odor and exhibits beneficial cardiovascular effects. Specifically, garlic has been recognized for its effect on blood pressure and plasma lipid levels. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted by Auer et al., (1990 ), demonstrated an improvement in diastolic blood pressure readings by 13 units after 12 weeks of a prepared garlic powder in mild hypertensive individuals. The placebo group in this study did not exhibit any significant changes in blood pressure. A meta-analysis consisting of 39 primary trials concluded that garlic preparations reduced total serum cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels when administered for at least 2 months. In addition to cardiovascular health, garlic also plays a role in immune health. More research is warranted to further understand how garlic-derived compounds can impact overall health. 

Chlorogenic acid: Chlorogenic acid (CGA) is a dietary polyphenol that naturally occurs in green coffee beans and tea. Research regarding CGA’s effect on liver health, and regulating glucose and lipid metabolism has been established, but current exploration of CGA and its potential blood pressure lowering effects are currently being examined.Kozuma et al., (2005), examined the effect of green coffee bean extract (GCE) on blood pressure. The results of this study found moderate to high dosages of GCE consumption resulted in statistically significant systolic blood pressure reductions, suggesting that green coffee bean extract may have a blood pressure-lowering effect in patients with mild hypertension. 

Hawthorn: Hawthorn fruit is commonly found in jams, wines and confections but it has also shown to have medicinal effects. Hawthorne flowers and leaves have shown to reduce symptoms and improve work capacity of the heart in Class II heart failure patients.Although hawthorn has not extensively been shown to reduce blood pressure, blood lipids or impact blood coagulation, we do know it plays an important role in heart function itself. Maintaining adequate heart function is imperative for modifying the risk of cardiovascular related death. 

Celery seed extract:  Pharmacological studies of this extract have demonstrated antioxidant, lipid-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects.One study investigated blood pressure-lowering effects from various celery seed extracts in hypertensive rats.This study concluded that celery seed compounds such as n-butylphthalide (NBP), exhibited anti-hypertensive effects. So, this tiny seed is an obvious choice for most blood pressure lowering herbal formulas.

In conclusion, heart disease is a top priority worldwide. The modifiable risk factors such as cigarette smoke, blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be addressed in those who have a high risk of heart disease. Complementary medicine, primarily consisting of herbal extracts and natural compounds are key players and warrant further investigation for their cardiovascular benefits.

Heart Disease in Canada. (2017, February 10). Retrieved from:

Cardiovascular disease (CVDs). (2017, May 17). Retrieved from:

Ounpuu S., Negassa A., Yusul S. (2001, May). INTER-HEART: A global study of risk factors for acute myocardial infarction. American heart journal; 141(5):711-21.

Auer W., Eiber A., Hertkorn E., Koehrle U., Lorenz A., Mader F., Merx F., Otto G., Schmid-Otto B., (1990, August). Hypertension and hyperlipidemia: garlic helps in mild cases. British journal of clinical practice. Supplement; 69:3-6.

Reid K., Toden C., Fakler P. (2013, May). Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews; 71(5):282-99.

Kozuma K., Tsuchiya S., Kohori J., Hase T., Tokimitsu I. (2005, September). Antihypertensive effect of green coffee bean extract on mildly hypertensive subjects. Hypertension research: official journal of the Japanese Society of Hypertension; 28(9):711-8.

Schmidt U., Kuhn U., Ploch M., Hubner WD. (1994, June). Efficacy of the Hawthorn (Crataegus) preparation LI 132 in 78 patients with chronic congestive heart failure defined as NWHA functional class II. Phytomedicine; 1:1724.

Iyer D., Patil UK. (2008). Effect of chloroform and aqueous basic fraction of ethanolic extract from Apium graveolens L. in experimentally-induced hyperlipidemic rats. Journal of complementary & integrative medicine; 8:ii.

Moghadam MH., Imenshahidi M., Mohajen A. (2013, June). Antihypertensive effect of celery seed on rat blood pressure in chronic administration. Journal of medicinal food. 16(6):558-563.