The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and blood vessels and is responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen to the tissues and removing carbon dioxide and other waste from them. Heart disease includes conditions affecting the heart, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart disease.
In Chinese medicine, the heart includes not only the organ itself but also the concept of the heart as a mental/emotional center. The word for heart in China is xin, which is often translated as “heart-mind.” Thus, it is believed that the heart not only regulates blood circulation but also controls consciousness, spirit, sleep, memory, and houses the mind and mental clarity. In this way, the heart, together with the liver, is related to the nervous system and brain. Thus, in addition to the Western symptoms of heart disease, general symptoms of a heart-mind imbalance include: scattered and confused mind, excessive or no laughter, a ruddy or very pale face, speech problems and defects, depression, mental illness, loss of memory, poor circulation, poor concentration, weak spirit and an aversion to heat.
Despite dramatic medical advances over the past fifty years, heart disease remains a leading cause of death globally and the number one cause of death in the United States. In addition to the physical habits that contribute to heart disease, we of the “information age” tend to suffer from mental hyperactivity which can disturb sleep, increase worry, and interfere with peace of mind and the enjoyment of life.
Studies have proven that by integrating acupuncture and Oriental medicine into your lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 80%. Preventative measures include managing high blood pressure and cholesterol, not smoking, eating healthy according to your particular nutritional requirements, maintaining a healthy weight, adequate physical activity, reducing stress and improving length and quality of sleep – all of which can be helped with acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
Managing high blood pressure is the primary objective of treatment. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, increasing its oxygen demands and contributing to angina (tightening, pressure, squeezing pain). This excessive pressure can lead to an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly), as well as damage to blood vessels in the kidneys and brain. It increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.
Acupuncture has been found to be particularly helpful in lowering blood pressure. It is one of the more than 40 common diseases recognized to be effectively treated with acupuncture by the World Health Organization. Researchers at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, Irvine applied acupuncture needles at specific sites along the wrist, inside the forearm or in the leg in order to stimulate the release of opiods, which decreased the heart’s activity and thus its need for oxygen. This, in turn, lowered blood pressure. Other considerations such as diet, exercise, mind-calming practices, supplements, herbal formulas are always a part of a comprehensive Chinese medicine heart healthy plan. For more complicated and advanced cases of high blood pressure and heart disease, a combined approach utilizing Chinese and Western medicine is often recommended.
Anita Alexandra, L.Ac., CH is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist with 17+ years of experience. She practices at Chiropractic Health and Acupuncture, 619 Main Street, Frisco. (970)668-3299.