Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Heart Health: The Best Alternative Therapies

3 Ways to Make Yourself Heart-Attack Proof

Unleash the power of alternative medicine to help strengthen--and heal--your heart

Could tiny needles, positive thinking, and slow-motion movement really be the ticket to a healthier heart?
Experts have long been equivocal, but an exciting--and growing--slew of new studies shows that alternative medicine can have a powerful impact on reducing heart disease risk.
Central to these strategies is stress reduction, but it doesn't stop there.

Research reveals that alternative medicine can augment the benefits of healthy behaviors--such as eating well, watching your weight, and exercising--to deliver results even faster.
They may even be what you need to keep you off medication or reduce your dose. "There is much more to the prevention and treatment of heart disease than pills and procedures," says preventive cardiologist Stephen Devries, MD, coeditor of Integrative Cardiology. Here, three therapies that can have big heart payoffs.

The Acupuncture Answer
Meet the newest weapon in the fight against high blood pressure.
Research suggests that weekly acupuncture sessions can slash systolic blood pressure by up to 20 points, producing results on par with prescription medications such as ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.
By stimulating a few key acupoints near the elbows and knees, acupuncture releases neurotransmitters that travel to areas of the brain that regulate the cardiovascular system, explains John Longhurst, MD, PhD, a cardiologist and director of the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, Irvine.

Electroacupuncture, which uses battery-driven needles, is especially effective, says Dr. Longhurst, because it lets the acupuncturist standardize the amount of stimulation and adjust the frequency. Acupuncture can't permanently lower blood pressure, though. "Once you have hypertension, you have it for life," says Dr. Longhurst.
So just as you would with medication, you need to continue getting weekly acupuncture treatments to see results--but with very few side effects or risks.

The Positivity Payoff
Stopping stress in its tracks sounds good, but can people really learn to change the way they react to upsetting situations?
If so, can this response lower blood pressure? Yes and yes, according to a study by the Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization.
The researchers showed that practicing "positive-emotion refocusing"--a technique that teaches you to interrupt your typical stress response by redirecting your attention--can significantly lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients after just 3 months of daily practice.
The results were promising: All participants saw their blood pressure drop, 12% were able to reduce their dose of blood-pressure-lowering medication, and one went off the pills altogether.
Stress triggers a cascade of hard-on-your-heart hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline--and positive refocusing sparks a counterflood of energizing feel-good hormones, short-circuiting the stress response.

Positive refocusing is easy to learn. When you feel anxiety coming on, identify what you're stressed-out about, then hold the thought in your mind like a freeze-frame of a movie.
As you do this, breathe deeply for several minutes and focus your attention on your heartbeat.
 Now identify a positive feeling, such as appreciation for a pet or a loved one. "This calms your emotions and shifts your attention away from negative thoughts," says Deborah Rozman, PhD, a behavioral psychologist.
Though it can be tough to let go of negative thoughts when you're fuming, regularly practicing this positive refocusing technique can result in fewer stressed-out moments overall. Even if you can't find the recommended 10 minutes a day for positive thinking, a couple of minutes here or there helps.
TLC Through Tai Chi
Tai chi (a Chinese martial art) combined with qigong (called the Chinese yoga) is more than just a gentle way to work out.
Practicing these ancient disciplines can reduce stress and have a powerful effect on metabolic syndrome--a cluster of five conditions that ups your risk of heart disease--reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure and trimming waist size by at least an inch, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
One reason? These slow-mo sports can burn as many calories as moderate-intensity activities, such as walking--but the mind-calming benefits of tai chi and qigong increase its heart-healthy cred.
Tai chi is sometimes described as "meditation in motion," and research shows that because people find the meditative component relaxing and enjoyable, they tend to stick with it--which is important for any heart disease-prevention strategy. "Sustainability is very important if you want to see ongoing effects of the practice," says Xin Liu, PhD, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland's School of Medicine in Australia.
Published January 2012, Prevention | Updated January 2012

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