Heart Healthy

"Open your heart to me, my own," whispers Grandmother Growth so softly you aren't certain you hear her. "Open the wisdom way of compassion here in your heart and draw me inside. Let Grandmother Growth be inside you, helping you encompass the whole, in the beat of your own heart, my heart, Crone's heart."

Step 0: Do Nothing

Thinking of taking hormone replacement to keep your heart healthy? Think again. Data released in April of the year 2000, from the federal government's Women's Health Initiative, showed "a small increase in the number of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots in the lungs of women on hormone replacement compared with women on placebo." The Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS), completed in 1998, found the same connection. For a healthy heart, don't take hormones.

"Recently released data from the federal government's Women's Health Initiative suggests that during the first two years of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy there is a slightly greater risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots."

Heart disease is America's top killer (claiming a life every 34 seconds). Women aged 30-50 have far less risk of heart disease than a man their age. But postmenopausal women die from heart disease at rates as high as men's. (Women account for 51 percent of all cardiovascular deaths; men, 49 percent.) Is it lack of estrogen?

No. Estrogen does lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, but cholesterol is only weakly linked to heart disease, especially in women. (Most heart attacks happen to people with normal cholesterol levels.)

Estrogen raises blood pressure (one of the top three reasons for heart attacks in women), increases triglycerides, promotes clotting (a leading factor in heart attacks and strokes), and raises levels of C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation associated with heart disease). Take progestins/progesterone too and you increase your risk of heart disease even more. Hormone replacement really isn't heart healthy.

Aren't there studies linking estrogen usage to lowered risk of heart disease? Only retrospective ones, which cannot establish a cause-and-effect link. And the women in those studies ate well, exercised regularly, and were unlikely to smoke - behaviors that are critical to heart health. The simple truth is more than 90 percent of all heart disease is preventable with lifestyle choices.

The three top risk factors for heart disease in women are too much belly fat, smoking, and untreated hypertension. High cholesterol is one of the top three risk factors for men, but not for women. (This is because, after menopause, we make heart healthy hormones from our cholesterol.)

Step 1: Collect Information

The Nurses Health Study - which followed 86,000 women for 14 years - shows what happens to those wise old Crones who follow heart healthy behaviors:

  • Those who ate more fish than meat, plus plenty of whole grains, beans, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables reduced their risk of heart disease by one-third compared to those who ate a "normal" American diet. Eating one serving a day of whole-grain foods reduced heart attacks by 34 percent in another study of 34,000 postmenopausal women.
  • Those who ate at least 5 ounces of nuts a week were only half as likely to have a heart attack as those who ate none.
  • Women who walked a total of three hours per week or who exercised vigorously for at least 90 minutes a week had one third fewer heart attacks than women who got no exercise. Those who walked five or more hours a week cut their risk in half.

Step 2: Engage the Energy

  • Rose flower essence and rose quartz essence are both recommended for engaging the energy of the heart.

  • Do you attack your heart? Do you close your heart to protect it? Love yourself. Give yourself plenty of nice strokes so you won't have a bad stroke. Try Stephen Levine's meditation "Opening the Heart" in Who Dies?

  • People in Hawaii, New Mexico, and Arizona have the healthiest hearts in the United States. Imagine you live there.

  • Smile! Depression increases your risk of both heart attack and stroke. In fact, severe depression is more strongly linked to stroke risk than high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking cigarettes, being overweight, and nine other known risk factors. When you smile, your brain makes hormones that make you, and your heart, feel good. So, smile.

Step 3: Nourish & Tonify

  • Touch and be touched. In numerous scientific studies, people who were touched lovingly every day had significantly fewer heart problems than those who weren't.

  • Nuts to heart attacks. The fats in nuts have been linked to a reduced risk of heart attacks. Volunteers on high-fat diets (35-40 percent of calories nuts and olive oil) lowered their LDL cholesterol by 13 percent. Greek women do the same, and have one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

  • Essential fatty acids, especially omega-3s, are ever so essential to a healthy heart. Look for them in fish (salmon, sardines, trout, herring are highest), seeds, whole grains, beans, and nuts. They are especially abundant in wild seeds such as plantain, lamb's quarter, and amaranth. And in freshly ground flax seeds. Women who consume the EFA alpha-linolenic acid daily have the lowest risk of a fatal heart attack.

  • Keep your heart healthy with regular use of seaweeds. Seaweeds have clinically proven cardiotonic effects: they stabilize blood pressure; regulate levels of triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterols; prolong the life of the heart muscle; and encourage a steady heartbeat.

  • Women who regularly eat foods rich in carotenes cut their risk of stroke by 40 percent. Women who eat broccoli at least once a week have roughly half the risk of heart disease as women who eat none.

  • Eliminating or limiting carbohydrates, especially refined flours and sugars, has halved the cholesterol of several friends whose totals were above 400.

    "What emerges is a clear association of heart disease with ... consumption of devitalized, processed, fabricated food items, including sugar and fructose, soft drinks, fortified white flour, milk and egg powders, caffeine, imitation broth products, synthetic vitamins, vegetable oils, and hydrogenated fats." - Sally Fallon

  • Garlic, Knoblauch, Ail (Allium sativum) is a great friend to old hearts. Several cloves a day of fresh, raw garlic can lower blood pressure, reduce phospholipids and cholesterol, strengthen heart action, increase immune response, reduce platelet clumping and clotting (thus reducing strokes), and stabilize blood sugar levels.

    Don't like raw garlic? Use powdered! A four-year study found women who ingested 900 mg (1/4 teaspoonful) of garlic powder daily had 18 percent less arterial plaque than those taking a placebo.

  • Hawthorn berry tincture is the standard herbal heart tonic, and for good reason. It is broadly effective, virtually without overdose, and easy to make from fresh or dried berries. An elegant shrub or small tree, hawthorn is frequently cultivated in the suburbs.

    Injectable forms of Crataegus were used by MDs up until the 1950s to treat vascular heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation of the heart muscle, and arteriosclerosis.

    The action of hawthorn is slow but complete. It strengthens the heart, establishes a regular heartbeat, relieves water build-up around the heart, and resolves stress throughout the cardiovascular system. Dose is 25-40 drops of the berry tincture, up to 4 times a day. Expect results no sooner than 6-8 weeks.

  • Motherwort, that dear friend of menopausal women, is a favorite heart tonic. A dose of 10-20 drops of the tincture of the flowering tops, taken up to three times a day, helps lower blood pressure, strengthen heart action, ease palpitations and irregular heartbeats, and make room in the heart for compassion.

  • Keep your heart healthy by eating chocolate. Sound too good to be true? Despite its reputation, chocolate is loaded with heart healthy phytochemicals. Cocoa's tretramers curb oxidation of the blood vessel walls, short-circuiting the build up of atherosclerotic plaque; they also help keep the vessels relaxed, keeping blood pressure down.

    Chocolate's flavonoids are more powerful than vitamin C in limiting oxidation of LDL; they protect all lipids in the blood from free-radical damage. Procyanidins are flavonoids that work like mild aspirins, keeping the blood thin and free-flowing.

    Polyphenols are heart-healthy substances found abundantly in red wine, green tea, and chocolate. Daily use may prevent stroke by delaying blood clotting time. (75 ounces/20 grams of dark chocolate = one-half cup tea = one glass red wine.)

    Chocolate also prevents blood platelet fragmentation (which occurs when platelets get sticky), and boosts HDL (good) cholesterol. No wonder it often comes in heart-shaped boxes!

  • Lemon balm is so strengthening to the heart, it is said those who drink it daily will live forever. Brew fresh or dried leaves in a cup of water for 5-10 minutes. Or steep fresh leaves in a glass of white wine for 1-2 hours and drink with dinner. Or enjoy 1-2 tablespoons/15-30 ml of the vinegar.

  • You don't have to sweat, but you do have to move to keep your heart healthy. However you can do it, do it; no excuses.

  • Dandelion root tincture lowers blood pressure and keeps your heart and cardiovascular system healthy and happy. Use 10-15 drops with meals.

  • If you eat meat, be sure to eat whole grains and beans. Homocysteine is concentrated in the blood of those who eat a lot of animal protein and don't get enough B vitamins to process it completely.

See New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 for Heart Healthy steps 4, 5, and 6 of the Six Steps of Healing

HEART HEALTHY LIFE STYLE HINTS

  • Eat whole grains, nuts, and beans daily.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat fatty fish at least once a week.
  • Eat dark chocolate regularly.
  • Eat a high monounsaturated-fat diet.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Maintain a healthy weight; don't diet.

STOP SMOKING - HEART HEALTHY HINTS

Tobacco is highly addictive and you can beat it. Get an extra edge on quitting by nourishing yourself with a handful of freshly toasted sunflower seeds and a cup of nettle or oatstraw infusion daily for 4-6 weeks before you stop smoking. Sunflower seeds reduce cravings for nicotine by filling nicotine receptor sites. Nettles and oatstraw strengthen nerves and cushion the impact of withdrawal. Nourish yourself the Wise Woman Way when you want tobacco:

  • Take an oatstraw bath.
  • Eat a wild salad (even if its only one dandelion leaf).
  • Bring home a flower.
  • Let someone cook dinner for you.
  • Go to a yoga class or a martial arts class.
  • Buy something for yourself instead of cigarettes.
  • Miss your smoke break? Take a break for pleasure!
  • A weight gain of 15 pounds/7 kilos is normal for quitters.
  • Nicotine withdrawal causes constipation.
  • Read, get, buy The No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way Guide to Quitting Smoking by Tom Ferguson, MD, Ballantine, 1987.

See New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 for more great Heart Healthy tips and hints.

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

Susun Weed
PO Box 64
Woodstock, NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at http://www.susunweed.com

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