As the clocks go forward we anticipate the lighter nights and warmer weather that hopefully awaits us. Summertime in Chinese Medicine is linked to the Heart and fire, where yang rushes outwards and encourages us to be more active. It is a time of movement, fulfilling our full potential and surging energy. The idea of the Heart in Chinese Medicine has links to our western understanding of the heart but goes further and incorporates our psychological and spiritual wellbeing (hence the use of capital H to denote this meaning). The Chinese meaning of Heart is not just a pump that propels blood throughout the body but also an organ concerned with joy, laughter and the need to appreciate art, music and beautiful landscapes. A healthy Heart is not only necessary for our body to function but also our mental wellbeing. In this article I will discuss the dangers of heart disease and what Chinese Medicine can do to help improve heart health.
Looking after your heart
Heart disease includes conditions affecting the heart, such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. Despite dramatic medical advances over the past fifty years, heart disease remains a leading cause of death globally and particularly in the UK. The increasing childhood obesity is described as a ticking time bomb for the NHS; increased heart disease is likely to be one of the explosives in that time bomb. By integrating acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine into your heart-healthy lifestyle, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.
Taking small steps to improve your health can reduce your risk for heart disease by as much as eighty percent. Steps to prevention include managing high blood pressure, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress and improved sleep – all of which can be helped with acupuncture.
1. Manage High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, increasing its oxygen demands and contributing to angina. 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. A German study in 2007 showed that acupuncture significantly reduced blood pressure after treatment (further details of this study are at the end of this article). Some researchers think this may be attributed to acupuncture being able to stimulate the release of opioids or neuropeptides such as endorphins, which decreases the heart’s activity and thus its need for oxygen. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure. To maintain lower blood pressure levels, regular treatment would be necessary.
2. Quit Smoking
Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know that smoking is also a major cause of coronary artery disease? In fact, about twenty percent of all deaths from heart disease are directly related to cigarette smoking.
Acupuncture can not make you give up smoking but can help reduce the withdrawal symptoms, such as food cravings, irritability, insomnia and anxiety. It does this by soothing your nervous system, making you feel relaxed and stimulating your feel-good hormones, such as endorphins.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, all of which increase the risk of developing heart disease, but studies have shown that excess body weight itself (and not just the associated medical conditions) can also lead to heart failure. Even if you are entirely healthy otherwise, being overweight still places you at a greater risk of developing heart failure.
Regulate your eating and increase your exercise. If you feel sluggish and lacking in energy, try a course of acupuncture to put you back in balance and more importantly, back into exercise.
4. Reduce Stress
Stress is a normal part of life. But if left unmanaged, stress can lead to emotional, psychological and even physical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pains, or irregular heart beats. Medical researchers aren’t sure exactly how stress increases the risk of heart disease. Stress itself might be a risk factor, or it could be that high levels of stress make other risk factors worse. For example, if you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, you may overeat, you may exercise less and you may be more likely to smoke.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the substantial benefits of acupuncture in the treatment of stress, anxiety and mental health. In addition to acupuncture, Chinese medicine offers a whole gamut of tools and techniques that can be integrated into your life to keep stress in check. These tools include Tui Na, Qi Gong exercises, herbal medicine, dietary therapy, meditations and acupressure that you can administer at home.
5. Improve Sleep
Poor sleep has been linked with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and obesity. Researchers have shown that getting at least eight hours of sleep is needed for good heart health and getting less than eight hours of sleep can put you at a greater risk for developing heart disease.
Acupuncture has shown great success treating a wide array of sleep problems without any of the side-effects of prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids. The acupuncture treatments for problems sleeping focus on the root disharmony within the body that is causing the insomnia. Therefore, those who use acupuncture for insomnia achieve not only better sleep, but also an overall improvement of physical and mental health.
Study Shows Acupuncture Significantly Lowers Blood Pressure
A German study published in the June 2007 issue of Circulation found that acupuncture significantly lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The extent of the blood pressure reductions by acupuncture treatments was comparable to those seen with antihypertensive medication or aggressive lifestyle changes, including radical salt restrictions.
For the study, 160 outpatients with uncomplicated, mild to moderate hypertension were randomized to six weeks of acupuncture performed by Chinese medicine practitioners or to a sham procedure. Patients underwent 22 sessions, each 30 minutes in length. By the end of the six weeks, 24-hour ambulatory systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly reduced from baseline in the acupuncture-treated patients (5.4 mm Hg and 3.0 mm Hg, respectively). No significant changes were seen in the sham acupuncture group.
After three and six months the blood-pressure reductions disappeared, leading investigators to conclude that ongoing acupuncture treatments would be required to maintain the blood-pressure reductions.
Source: Circulation. 2007;115:3121-3129
Randomized Trial of Acupuncture to Lower Blood PressureFrank A. Flachskampf, MD; Joachim Gallasch, MD; Olaf Gefeller, PhD; Junxue Gan, MD; Juntong Mao, MD; Annette B. Pfahlberg, PhD; Alois Wortmann, MD; Lutz Klinghammer, MD; Wolfgang Pflederer, MD; Werner G. Daniel, MD