The Triumphant Elder: The Beating Heart: Common Herbs and Healthy Hearts

by Tim Keim, EYT500, Yoga Therapist

For thousands of years our ancestors have passed down their deep knowledge of plant medicines. In the early
20th century this extensive knowledge fell out of
fashion as modern medicine began to replace it. The replacements, in many cases, were synthesized versions
of raw plant medicines.

Currently, researchers are returning to these noble plants because patient populations often don’t respond to pharmaceutical medications or cannot tolerate their significant side effects. Pharmaceutical prices and drug availability have also been factors prompting researchers to shine the light of scientific inquiry on time-tested plant remedies. One modern malady getting renewed herbal treatment is cardiovascular disease (CVD), which by some estimates will kill over 20 billion people by 2030. 

In a compilation of 227 studies, common herbs like garlic, celery, hibiscus, hawthorn, and many others showed positive benefits for CVD in human and animals alike. This research established these plants to be brimming with bioactive natural compounds that fight heart disease and its precursor, inflammatory high blood pressure by reducing inflammation, tissue damaging free radicals, enhancing artery dilation for easier blood flow and providing strong antioxidant protection. 

Garlic extract demonstrated nearly 80% effectiveness in reducing both systolic (the top number in blood pressure) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number). The action was in garlic’s capacity to relax tension in the arteries and reduce arterial resistance to blood flow.  

The constituent in celery that produces its aromatic odor and flavor is given credit for the ability to relax aortic (the largest artery in the body is the aorta) contractions in mice chemically induced with high blood pressure. 

In the tropics, hibiscus is a universal refreshment used in hypertension, fever and other diseases and has demonstrated its ability to reduce blood pressure in animals and humans. Hibiscus increases urine production while reducing uric acid concentrations and lowering sodium in hypertensive subjects after four weeks of administration. This diuretic effect is related to its ability to relax blood vessels and increase urine filtration by the kidneys thereby lowering blood pressure. 

Many species of Hawthorn have been used for CVD since at least the 17th century. Quercetin, a component of Hawthorn, “expresses numerous bioactive functions including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasorelaxant effects.”  Hawthorn also helps to reduce weight, reduces blood vessel thickening, combats the increase of cell size (hyperplasia), a possible precursor to cancer and increases kidney function.  

Ginger, known as the universal medicine, shows benefit by inhibiting the degradation of fats and free radical activity in rats. Also, this versatile herb reduces total cholesterol, LDL (the bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels. 

Researchers are seeing that these and other herbs actually change the expression of genes in the body. This is the idea behind the science of epigenetics, which demonstrates that diet and lifestyle are paramount in upregulating the best expression of our genetic heritage. 

Modern science is confirming what our ancestors knew thousands of years ago. Plant medicines can be powerful, safe and effective.

Tim Keim is an IAYT certified yoga therapist, and has been teaching yoga for 15 years. Keim can be heard Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 91.5-FM, WUNC. He can be reached at