With health care costs rising to stratospheric levels, more and more people are turning to so-called “alternative therapies” to deal with a variety of ailments, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s.
Approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults have used some form of alternative therapy, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is alternative therapy?
Rose Kumar, M.D., medical director of the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, says that alternative medicine is anything that doesn’t fall under the traditional medical model of care. Examples include: acupuncture, massage, naturopathy, yoga, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.
“People are hungry for alternative options because traditional medicine is so expensive and focuses more on symptom management,” Kumar says. “The idea of reversing disease and bringing regeneration and vitality to life isn’t really considered in the traditional medical model.”
Practitioners of alternative therapies seek to treat not only the physical symptoms of an illness, but the emotional, spiritual, nutritional and social contributors to disease.
Alternative medicine for heart disease
When using alternative therapies to treat heart disease, Kumar says two main elements come into play: diet and stress management.
Study after study points to the cardiac benefits bestowed by a primarily plant-based diet.
Most recently, a nationwide analysis found that following a vegetarian diet could lower a person’s risk of having an adverse cardiac event by 32 percent.
According to Kumar, this research has helped people realize that expensive, invasive surgical interventions are not the only way to treat heart disease. These treatments, while beneficial for managing certain symptoms, didn’t have the same disease-reversing capabilities are a heart-healthy diet.
Inflammatory foods (refined sugar, alcohol, red meat, trans fats) are the leading cause of coronary artery disease, Kumar notes in her book, “Becoming Real: Harnessing the Power of Menopause for Health and Success.”
“When you’re combating heart disease, diet should be emphasized. Eating needs to be easy, simple and fun,” she says.
Here are some of her diet tips:
A note on herbal medicine
Certain herbs are thought to bestow heart health benefits including: Ginko (lowers blood pressure; increases circulation), Hawthorn berries (expands coronary arteries), and Ginger (cuts down on blood clotting and reduces cholesterol).
The scientific evidence behind these claims is minimal, so anyone considering herbal remedies should consult their doctor first.
Read on to discover the important role of stress-management for heart health…
“The connection between stress and heart disease is significant,” says Kumar.
In high levels, the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, can cause coronary arteries to spasm and may create micro-tears that attract potentially-dangerous plaque deposits.
Techniques to manage stress should be considered a vital part of any alternative therapy plan for heart disease, according to Kumar. She offers some examples of alternative therapies that can help reduce stress and promote heart health:
Acupuncture—the practice of inserting and maneuvering thin needles in certain points of the body—is also sometimes used as an alternative treatment for heart disease. The main goal of acupuncture (or acupressure) is to help realign the flow of energy in a person’s body.
“Regular acupuncture calms the nervous system, and can help alleviate stress, which contributes to high blood pressure. It can also treat things like troubled sleep, which is linked to heart problems,” according to Yvonne. The National Institutes of Health has authorized acupuncture for the treatment of certain conditions.
Benefits of a holistic approach to heart health
Most people who dabble in alternative therapies do so as a complement to more traditional approaches, says the CDC.
For example, individuals with high blood pressure may take statins in addition to making dietary changes, such as reducing their sodium intake and limiting their consumption of fats, and taking up yoga to get a handle on their stress levels.
Kumar hopes that more people will adopt this integrative approach to medicine. “Our society has become so dualistic. We see it as black and white; traditional versus alternative,” she says. “Both traditional and alternative therapies have their place in medicine, but we need to shift to a more integrative model.”