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Are there Alternative Treatments for Heart Health?

separator When you have a heart condition, or if you’re trying to prevent one from developing, you might wonder whether there are any alternative health treatments you can explore. A sensible, yet “alternative” approach to heart disease prevention is one that could encompass not only some non-traditional elements, but also the tried and true advice that doctors have been recommending for years—a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables whole grains, lean meats and fish and low-fat dairy; limits on saturated and trans fats; and an active lifestyle that includes 30 to 60 (maybe even 90 if you’re trying to lose weight) minutes of exercise per day.

Additionally, even if you’re interested in some alternative approaches, you should also continue to take any medication your doctor has prescribed for conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. In fact, the best approach might be not an “alternative” one, but one that complements the things you’re already doing to take care of your heart. For example, there are supplements that some professionals believe are beneficial, while others believe they are not of particular help at all. These include:

Coenzyme Q10 (also called CoQ10). This substance is

  • Made by the body naturally and is found in every cell
  • Helps cells to produce energy
  • Acts as an antioxidant (a substance that prevents damage caused by free radicals)

Levels of coenzyme Q10 in the body tend to decrease with age. Some researchers believe that this substance can boost the immune system, improve some heart conditions and help fight cancer, among other uses.

The American Heart Association, on its Web site, acknowledges that some studies have shown that people who have heart failure have less CoQ10 than people who don’t have heart failure. But the AHA also states that these studies have been small and that much more research is needed to establish any correlation between taking CoQ10 and improving heart health.

If you’re interested in CoQ10, talk with your doctor about it.

ALA (also called alpha-linolenic acid). Some studies have shown that women who had diets high in ALA had a lower risk of dying from heart disease and sudden cardiac death. ALA is found in green leafy vegetables, canola oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts. But there have been no studies showing that taking ALA supplements would have the same effect. Additionally, there’s no actual proof that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between ALA and lower risk of these heart problems.

On the other hand, being sure to get plenty of ALA in your diet certainly wouldn’t hurt, as long as you’re sure to keep your calories within the limits that you should.

B-vitamins and folic acid: There’s a link between the B-vitamins and an amino acid called homocysteine. There’s been some evidence suggesting that too much homocysteine can cause fat to build up in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. B-vitamins (including folic acid) help to break down homocysteine levels.

But it’s important to remember that so far, there’s been no overwhelming evidence linking homocysteine to heart disease; it’s simply a theory that some researchers do believe. If you’re interested in increasing your b-vitamins, be sure to consume citrus fruits, tomatoes, vegetables and whole grains.

Embracing a healthy approach to life
Another important aspect of taking care of the health of your heart is to embrace the kinds of things that some may think of as alternative—things like meditation, mind-body exercise such yoga, qigong or t’ai chi, and a focus on keeping things simple rather than getting caught up in a cycle of too much work and too little relaxation.

If you’ve been running on empty for a long time, you might be at the point where slowing down and taking it easy feels like an alternative lifestyle. But some would argue that it’s merely a lifestyle that complements the other things you do to take care of your heart.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 4(4): 333-337. October 1998; American Heart Association; Sinatra, S. Heart Sense for Women.
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