From the Herb Companion Newsletter
All the approaches in this article help the heart. Mix and match the ones that best fit into your life and the lives of those you love.
You aren’t going to like these statistics. But you don’t have to live them out.
One American dies every 35 seconds from cardiovascular disease—from a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, or other condition of the heart and blood vessels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States for men and women, claiming more lives than the next four leading causes (cancer, respiratory illnesses, accidents and diabetes) combined.
What you might find even more surprising is that almost every American has the beginnings of this condition. That’s right—unless you’ve been a lifelong vegan, it’s virtually certain that your artery walls show at least the beginnings of the cholesterol-rich deposits (atherosclerosis) that lead to heart attack and most strokes. That’s what several studies have found, including a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association by pathologists who autopsied the arteries of 2,876 Americans who died between the ages of 15 and 34. All of them—100 percent—showed at least some atherosclerosis.
Now the good news: Lifestyle and dietary modifications offer measurable protection against diseases of the heart and blood vessels. You know the standard prescription for preventing heart disease: Don’t smoke. Exercise regularly. Limit dietary salt and saturated (animal) fat. Banish trans fats. Maintain your recommended weight. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
What you might not know is the list of herbs, supplements and other natural approaches that also can make a difference.
Go for Garlic
Garlic (Allium sativum) is an herbal mainstay for heart health. In a classic study, researchers at New York Medical College in Valhalla analyzed five previous studies and found that one clove a day reduces cholesterol by 9 percent. Other studies show similar reductions. For every 1 percent decrease in total cholesterol, the risk of heart attack drops 2 percent.
The issue isn’t cut and dried, however. Some studies show no cholesterol-lowering effect of garlic, notably a recent Stanford report published in Archives of Internal Medicine that used raw cloves and a garlic supplement. But right now the weight of evidence still favors using garlic as a cholesterol reducer.
Garlic reduces the volume of the atherosclerosis plaques that narrow the arteries. German researchers measured plaque volume in 152 people with heart disease, then gave them garlic (900 mg a day). After four years, their plaque volume was reduced by up to 18 percent, resulting in a substantial increase in blood flow and significantly less risk for heart attack and stroke.
Garlic also helps prevent the formation of internal blood clots that trigger heart attacks and most strokes.
To get the most of garlic’s cholesterol-lowering benefits, chop, mince or smash it to release its heart-protective compounds. Cook lightly or eat raw. (Remember, this is a clove, not an entire garlic bulb, which might make you healthy, but might also limit your social life.) Garlic supplements, including deodorized varieties, have similar effects. Most of the studies showing that garlic lowers cholesterol have used aged garlic extract, not fresh cloves. Garlic supplements with proven benefits include Kwai and Kyolic. Follow supplement label directions or take the equivalent of one clove a day.
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