• Natural Treatments for
• Antioxidants (such as
As an active muscle, the heart needs a continuous supply of oxygen. The coronary arteries have the job of carrying oxygen to the heart. These arteries have a difficult job to do because they undergo intense compression every time the heart beats. This job becomes even more difficult when the arteries are damaged by
In coronary artery disease the passages inside the coronary arteries become narrowed by plaque deposits, which decreases blood flow. When the blood flow is decreased to a sufficient extent, pain caused by oxygen deprivation occurs. This pain is known as
A heart attack may occur after years of angina, or with no warning at all. Most heart attacks occur when a blood clot (thrombus) forms on the roughened wall of an atherosclerotic coronary artery. Such a blood clot may lead to a sudden and complete blockage of the artery. More rarely, a spasm of a coronary artery may cut off blood flow. In either case, the cells of the heart fed by that artery begin to die. The region of dead cells is called an infarct, leading to the technical name for a heart attack: a myocardial infarction (MI).
The classic symptom of a heart attack is intense, central chest pressure. Other common symptoms include: pain or heaviness in the left arm, nausea, shortness of breath, increased perspiration, and a feeling of impending doom. But many people who have had an MI describe chest "discomfort," or pain in the jaw, teeth, arm, or abdomen. Women are more likely than men to feel pain in their backs. Often, symptoms come on gradually and are intermittent or vague. A quarter of patients—more often women and people with diabetes—experience no symptoms at all.
When a heart attack occurs, emergency treatment at a hospital can minimize the extent of permanent damage to the heart. “Clot busting” drugs, if given soon enough, can open the coronary arteries, allowing blood to flow again. Other methods of restoring blood flow include procedures known as angioplasty, stenting, and bypass surgery. The aim is to save those heart cells that are in danger of dying but are still hanging on to life. Recovery after a heart attack depends on the extent of heart damage. If only a small portion of the heart has died, or if it is in a relatively less important region, symptoms may be slight. More severe damage can cause the heart to pump improperly, leading to
During the first several days following a heart attack, the heart has a tendency to lose its normal rhythm and fall into a dysfunctional pattern of beating that does not properly circulate blood. Treatment aimed to prevent or treat this condition, called an
Long-term treatment to reduce the risk of heart attacks generally involves aspirin to prevent blood clots, as well as treatments to slow, stop, or reverse atherosclerosis. The latter is accomplished through the use of medications that keep cholesterol and blood pressure within normal limits, as well as by increasing exercise and improving other aspects of lifestyle.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
The most important contribution natural medicine has to make to heart attacks lies in prevention, not treatment. Because heart attacks are, in almost all cases, caused by atherosclerosis, the natural treatments discussed in the atherosclerosis
In turn, atherosclerosis is accelerated by
Note: Natural therapies for high blood pressure and high cholesterol are generally less effective than the conventional approaches. If you have one or both of these conditions, and you wish to treat them with natural therapies, first consult with a physician to determine how long it is safe to experiment. If natural therapies have not controlled your condition within that time, it may be the better part of valor to use conventional therapies.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Several natural treatments have shown promise for use along with conventional treatment in the period following a heart attack. Note, however, that people who have recently had a heart attack should not use any herbs or supplements except under the supervision of a physician. Furthermore, none of these treatments can substitute for standard care; at most, they might be helpful if used in addition to it.
Coenzyme Q 10
) is thought to improve heart function. In a
The amino acid
In the months following a severe heart attack, the heart often enlarges and loses function. L-carnitine has shown some potential for helping the first of these complications, but not the second. In a 12-month,
Results consistent with those of the studies above were seen in a 6-month, double blind, placebo-controlled study of 2,330 people who had just had a heart attack.
In one study, 432 people who had suffered a heart attack were given either garlic oil extract or no treatment over a period of 3 years.
: People who take aspirin to prevent heart attacks should not take garlic supplements, as the combination could lead to excessive bleeding. (See the full article on
Red Yeast Rice
Because of its purported ability to lower cholesterol,
Antioxidant supplements help neutralize free radicals, which are dangerous, naturally occurring chemicals that may accelerate heart cell death following a heart attack (among their many other harmful effects). In a double-blind trial, people who had just experienced a heart attack were given either placebo or a mixture of antioxidants (
Other Herbs and Supplements
Other herbs and supplements sometimes said to be useful after a heart attack, but that lack reliable substantiation, include the following:
Evidence suggests that a program of intensive lifestyle modification, involving an extremely low-fat diet along with exercise and stress reduction, can actually reverse coronary artery disease in people who have had heart attacks, or are at high risk for it.
Some alternative medicine physicians recommend use of intravenous infusions of a chemical called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) in order to clear out the arteries of the heart, a method called
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Numerous herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to prevent or treat heart attacks. For more information on these potential risks see the individual drug articles in the Drug Interactions
3. Iliceto S, Scrutinio D, Bruzzi P, et al. Effect of L-carnitine administration on left ventricular remodeling after acute anterior myocardial infarction: the L-Carnitine Ecocardiografia Digitalizzata Infarto Miocardico (CEDIM) Trial. J Am Coll Cardiol . 1995;26:380-387.
8. Bordia A. Garlic and coronary heart disease. The effects of garlic extract therapy over three years on the reinfarction and mortality rate [translated from German]. Dtsch Apoth Ztg . 1989;129(Suppl 15):16-17.
16. Tarantini G, Scrutinio D, Bruzzi P, et al. Metabolic Treatment with L-Carnitine in Acute Anterior ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction. A Randomized Controlled Trial. Cardiology. 2006 May 9. [Epub ahead of print]
17. Marchioli R, Barzi F, Bomba E, et al. Early protection against sudden death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids after myocardial infarction: time-course analysis of the results of the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione. Circulation. 2002;105:1897-1903.
18. Calo L, Bianconi L, Colivicchi F, et al. N-3 Fatty acids for the prevention of atrial fibrillation after coronary artery bypass surgery: a randomized, controlled trial. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005;45:1723-1728.
20. Raitt MH, Connor WE, Morris C, et al. Fish oil supplementation and risk of ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation in patients with implantable defibrillators: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2005;293:2884-2891.
21. Bednarz B, Jaxa-Chamiec T, Maciejewski P, et al. Efficacy and safety of oral l-arginine in acute myocardial infarction. Results of multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled ARAMI pilot trial. Kardiol Pol. 2005;62:421-427.
22. Schulman SP, Becker LC, Kass DA, et al. L-Arginine therapy in acute myocardial infarction. The Vascular Interaction With Age in Myocardial Infarction (VINTAGE MI) randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2006;295:58-64.
23. Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, et al. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis. Lancet . 2007;369:1090-1098.
24. Tuttle KR, Shuler LA, Packard DP, et al. Comparison of low-fat versus mediterranean-style dietary intervention after first myocardial infarction (from The Heart Institute of Spokane Diet Intervention and Evaluation Trial). Am J Cardiol. 2008;101:1523-1530.
25. Du BM, Lu ZL, Chen Z, et al. The beneficial effects of lipid-lowering therapy with Xuezhikang on cardiac events and total mortality in coronary heart disease patients with or without hypertension: a random, double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial. Zhonghua Xin Xue Guan Bing Za Zhi. 2006;34:890-894.
26. Zhao SP, Lu ZL, Du BM, et al. Xuezhikang, an extract of cholestin, reduces cardiovascular events in type 2 diabetes patients with coronary heart disease: subgroup analysis of patients with type 2 diabetes from China coronary secondary prevention study (CCSPS). J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2007;49:81-84.
27. Ye P, Lu ZL, Du BM, et al. Effect of xuezhikang on cardiovascular events and mortality in elderly patients with a history of myocardial infarction: a subgroup analysis of elderly subjects from the China Coronary Secondary Prevention Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007;55:1015-1022.
28. Lu Z, Kou W, Du B, et al. Effect of xuezhikang, an extract from red yeast chinese rice, on coronary events in a chinese population with previous myocardial infarction. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101:1689-1693.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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