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Chinese Herbs for Supporting Heart Health

Say Goodbye to Statins…

Chinese herbal medicine is based on the concept of re-establishing healthy balance in the body using natural substances.

For over 3,000 years, Chinese healers have carefully categorized how herbal substances and combinations affect health. The result of these observations is the Chinese Materia Medica, an impressive body of knowledge containing over 5,000 substances categorized by their major effects on health.

Within this massive Chinese herbal pharmacy, three herbs in particular have an established history of use for improving circulation, strengthening the heart and blood vessels, at the same time reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.

And better still, these three herbs do all this without causing unwanted side effects. Contrast that to the rather long list of problems associated with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

The Terrific Trio

The three herbs I’m talking about are Salvia miltorhizza root (dan shen), Pseudoginseng root (tien qi) and Gynostemma pentaphyllum leaf (jiao lu gan). Although each can be used alone, when used in combination, they are even more powerful in supporting cardiovascular health.

Here are the specifics for each:

Salvia miltorhizza root (dan shen)
This herbal remedy is in the Chinese medical category called “Activating Blood.” This means it’s an herb that increases blood flow. It is classically used for helping relieve chest or abdominal pain associated with what is referred to as stagnant blood (xue yu).

It also helps calm stress when symptoms include restlessness, irritability, palpitations or insomnia. In addition, it increases blood flow to the arteries of the heart, reduces cholesterol, strengthens circulation and reduces platelet stickiness.

Pseudoginseng root (tien qi or san qi)
In contrast to Salvia, Pseudoginseng (also called Notoginseng) is in the category of herbs that stop bleeding (hemostatic herbs). In other words it causes blood to clot.

If this seems contradictory to what someone would want for increasing circulation, consider that this herb is unique among hemostatics because it is the only one that also helps disperse stagnant blood. In fact its classical uses include treating pain from stagnant blood, including chest and abdominal pain as well as pain from traumatic injuries.

In addition, like Salvia, Pseudoginseng improves blood flow to the heart while lowering cholesterol. It is a very important herb in the Chinese herbal pharmacy.

Gynostemma pentaphyllum leaf (jiao gu lan)
This herb is in the category called “Tonify Qi.” This means strengthening energy and vitality.

Gynostemma is an amazing herb. It strengthens the immune system, acts as a powerful anti-oxidant, increases stamina and endurance, promotes long life and improves memory.

More importantly for heart health, it also reduces cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, helps regulate blood sugar and reduces inflammation. What’s not to like?

Are There Any Potential Downsides?

Should everybody be taking these herbs? Of course not. Like any medicine, there are specific health situations in which these remedies are contraindicated.

For example, Salvia miltorhizza shouldn’t be taken by those who are taking blood thinners without careful supervision. And, if someone doesn’t have any blood stagnation issues, it’s best to be cautious about it’s use. If it’s taken along with Pseudoginseng, this is somewhat less of a concern. However it’s still wise to work with a knowledgeable and experienced herbalist familiar with Chinese herbs.

Pseudoginseng should not be used during pregnancy. It should also be used cautiously if someone has weak blood (anemia, fatigue, etc.) and no blood stagnation. In such a case it should only be used along with herbs that strengthen the blood.

There are no specific cautions or contraindications for Gynostemma. Of course there can be individual averse responses to just about anything, so if you decide to take it you might want to start with a small amount for a short time and see how your body responds before taking it full time.

Because these herbs are potentially so beneficial it’s easy to see why someone would want to take them. Even so, I recommend consulting with a trained Chinese herbalist before beginning to use them. For example in my practice when these three herbs are indicated I always custom blend them in proportions most suitable for each person’s individual health situation.


References:

Bensky, Dan, et al. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 2004.

Tanner, M. A., et al. The direct release of nitric oxide by gypenosides derived from the herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum. Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry. 3(5):359-365, 1999.

Ding, M., et al. Aqueous extract of Salvia miltiorrhiza attenuates increased endothelial permeability induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha. Int Immunopharmacol. 5(11):1641-1645, 2005.

Zhang, Y. G., et al. Panax notoginseng saponins attenuate atherosclerosis in rats by regulating the blood lipid profile and an anti-inflammatory action. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2008.

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