Research shows that complementary and integrative therapies, such as yoga and vitamin supplements, also can help women lower their risk factors for heart disease.
Ways to achieve relaxation
A recent study conducted at the University of California found that acupuncture appears to reduce blood pressure by stimulating the brain to release chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins also help regulate the brain's nerve cells to relax muscles, decrease pain, and reduce panic and anxiety. The results were dramatic; those who received the treatment lowered their systolic blood pressure an average of 15 mm Hg.
Yoga may have similar effects. In a recent study, participants were subjected to 5-minute periods of mental stress followed by various relaxation techniques, including listening to classical music, listening to nature sounds, practicing yoga, or doing nothing at all. Only yoga significantly decreased the time it took for blood pressure to drop back to normal.
A recent study found that relaxing and reducing stress through transcendental meditation (TM) might reduce artery blockage, a major risk for heart attack and stroke. People practice TM by repeating soothing sounds while meditating to achieve total relaxation. The researchers found that those who practiced TM significantly reduced the thickness of the arterial wall compared with those who didn't practice TM.
Relaxation methods take on added significance in light of recent studies that link heart disease to anger or irritability from mental stress. Stress brings on ischemia (constriction or narrowing of coronary arteries with a lack of blood flow to the heart), which can lead to a heart attack. Adjusting your attitude is important to heart health, and relaxation exercises can help you manage stress.
The role of vitamin & mineral supplements
To protect their hearts, women need to eat the proper foods. Studies show that not getting enough potassium, calcium, or magnesium in the foods you eat may cause hypertension. Eating foods rich in these nutrients can help control blood pressure.
A recent study conducted at the Johns Hopkins University found that the oils in certain fish can lower blood pressure. The researchers reported that omega-3 fatty acids in such cold-water fish as mackerel and salmon might help lower blood pressure.
Several studies also have cited the role of vitamin C in heart health. A diet rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C, has been found to help protect the heart by preventing blood clots and by improving blood cholesterol levels. Antioxidants neutralize damaging "free radicals," which oxidize other molecules and damage cells. They also boost immune system function to keep diseases at bay. Experts advise taking between 100 mg and 200 mg of vitamin C per day if you don't get enough from the food you eat.
Complementary & integrative therapy safety
Some therapies effectively help women manage their heart health. However, others can be dangerous if you pursue them without your physician's permission and advice. It's a good idea to proceed with caution if you try any form of alternative therapy. Consult your physician and compare the cost of the treatment with its potential benefits.
If you choose to take the alternative therapy route, be sure to check out the practitioner's credentials. Ask the following questions and insist on getting patient referrals before making an appointment:
- Where and how were you trained?
- How long have you been in practice?
- Are you licensed in your field? If not, what other credentials do you have?
- Have you worked with other female patients interested in lowering their risk of heart disease?
- Are you willing to work in conjunction with my physician?
The best way to choose an alternative therapy practitioner is with the guidance of your physician.