Last week, my column focused on nutritionally-oriented alternatives to headache-alleviating analgesics such as aspirin. However, even if more of us eschew aspirin in favour of natural remedies for our thumping heads, I doubt whether this will put too much of a dent in the sales of this particular drug. In recent years, aspirin’s ability to thin the blood has led to its popular use in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. However, evidence suggests that dosing up on a daily aspirin is not for everyone. For instance, a recent study has found that treatment with aspirin has the capacity to worsen the condition of individuals suffering from weakened heart function (heart failure), and increases their risk of hospitalisation. In the light of these findings, this study’s lead author has suggested that doctors might have a change of heart regarding the use of aspirin in cardiac failure.
Reading this research got me thinking about what potential the contents of the natural medicine chest have to alleviate the symptoms of heart failure. The compromised cardiac function typical of this condition leads to an under-supply of blood to the body’s tissues which may cause feelings of fatigue and reduce sufferers’ capacity for exercise. At the same time, heart failure can cause fluid to accumulate in the body, particularly in the lungs (which can lead to breathlessness) and the legs. Fortunately, those affected by heart failure may be helped by specific nutrients that feed the heart and help it do a better inside job.
One of the most important nutrients for heart function is magnesium – a mineral that is known to have a particular role in maintaining muscular function. Individuals with heart failure tend to have lower than normal levels of magnesium in their bodies and may be benefited by a boosting of the levels of this nutrient in their bodies. Nuts are an excellent source of magnesium, though supplementation provides a practical and relatively economical way to get therapeutic levels of this nutrient into the system. For individuals with heart failure I recommend long term supplementation with 400 ” 500 mg of magnesium each day.
Another natural remedy that has been shown to improve heart function is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This nutrient is essential for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the basic unit of energy in the body. CoQ10 appears to be particularly important for the production of energy in muscular tissues including the heart, and supplementation with this nutrient has been shown to help relieve the symptoms of heart failure. CoQ10 is best absorbed into the body when dissolved in oil (as found in soft gelatine capsules). 30 – 50 mg should be taken, three times a day.
Heart function may be enhanced by herbal remedies too, and perhaps the most commonly used agent in this respect is hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha). Hawthorn is believed to increase blood flow to the heart and increase its ability to deliver blood to the tissues. The normal recommended dose is 80 ” 300 mg of standardised extract, two or three times a day. Those taking prescription medications for heart failure should consult their doctor before taking hawthorn, though this herb is generally regarded as very safe, even when taken in the long term. Experience shows that this and other natural remedies have considerable capacity to pump up the power of the heart.