By Shihan Mary Bolz
Many Americans today are suffering unnecessarily from an abundance of maladies and diseases that could be prevented if only they knew better. The other factor involved in this prevention is that once they know better, they need to do better.
Let’s take a look at some of the new “trends” in diseases for which medications could be avoided and substituted with herbs and the right foods. Hypercholesterolemia: Simply stated, this is a higher than normal amount of cholesterol in the blood. This condition increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. It is almost unbelievable the number of people in America that are taking prescribed drugs to lower this type of fat level in the blood. Why take a medication which consists of a mixture of unbalanced chemicals with the possibility of dangerous side effects when it is so simple to lower the level with natural substances and foods? There are a number of Chinese herbs that lower blood cholesterol levels without any side effects whatsoever. Yes, whole herbs, not constituents of an herb or extracted active ingredients. In addition, there are nutritious food substances that also lower blood cholesterol levels when included in the daily diet.
A common herb in the Chinese medical pharmacy which can lower blood cholesterol levels is the Chinese hawthorne berry, shan zha. This herb/fruit is very effective for the heart and blood vessels. Its actions include being a coronary restorative, a cardiovascular relaxant resolving circulatory and systemic imbalances unequaled by other substances. This makes it a valuable adjunct in herbal formulas for coronary deficiency with angina, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, neurocardiac disorders, coronary artery spasm, chest tightness, shortness of breath, palpitations and anxiety. The improvement resulting from the effect of shan zha in the treatment of angina are due to increasing the blood and oxygen supply to the heart, dilating the coronary vessels and effecting the metabolic processes in the heart.
The Japanese reishi mushroom, (ling zhi in Chinese), has extensive effects on heart and blood-related conditions. Modern research conducted to test ling zhi in coronary heart disease has shown that it improves the circulation of the myocardium, (the innermost muscles of the heart), increases blood flow and lowers oxygen consumption. Several polysaccharides contained in ling zhi are involved in these cardiotonic activities. It also reduces blood fat levels, including LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol). Many of the symptomatic improvements are a reduction of pain above the heart and of difficult breathing, reduction of palpitations and edema. Adenosine ( a nucleotide derivative of RNA) in the dried mushroom has been connected with the inhibition of platelet aggregation. Adenosine is the core of cyclic AMP and ATP, the basic energy systems of the body. The triterpenes in ling zhi, occurring mostly as fatty acids, have an adaptogenic effect, helping the body to adapt to a range of environmental and biological stresses. The ling zhi have the effect of regulating the body’s energy system and the immune system and gives a kind of harmonizing effect.
Chuan xiong (ligusticum walichii) is a cardiovascular/coronary restorative used for coronary blood deficiency and spasms with angina pectoris, myocardial infarct and cerebrovascular occlusion. It is a cardiovascular relaxant and hypotensive, making it a valuable herb for neurocardiac disorders, such as palpitations and anxiety. As an antilipemic, it reduces the incidence of atherosclerosis by lowering the serum cholesterol levels.
Wu wei zi (schizandra) is a metabolic restorative, aging retardant herb, often used in China for chronic loss of stamina, fatigue, stress and chronic illness. It is also a blood pressure regulator, making it valuable in both hypotension as well as hypertension. Schizandra not only stimulates inadequate immune functions, but also regulates them when they become disordered.
Zhi gan cao (baked licorice root) is one of the most commonly used of all Chinese herbs. It is added to herbal formulas as an adjunctive herb to harmonize the entire formula and goes into all 12 meridians in the body. It moderates the possible harshness of other herbs in a formula. It can also be used for its Qi (energy) tonic properties. It is used for patterns with an irregular or intermittent pulse, or palpitations. Glycyrrhizin, the active ingredient in licorice root, lowers cholesterol levels.
Dan shen (radix salvia mitorrrhiza) invigorates the circulation of blood and eliminates blood stasis. It eliminates pathogenic heat and is also sedative. It is often used in Chinese herbal medicine for dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, angina pectoris, coronary heart disease, ulcer, carbuncles, insomnia, palpitations and irritability. Dan shen improves the micro-circulation and peripheral circulation and increases the capillary vascular net. Its influence on the vascular dynamics is that of dilation of the coronary artery, increases the blood flow to the coronary artery, improves myocardial contraction and adjusts the heart rate. Dan shen promotes the repair and regeneration of tissue, and inhibits the excessive growth of fibroblast and tumor cells. It inhibits coagulation of the blood and activates fibrinolysis. (the act of breaking down fibrin which is formed in the body to clot blood). Dan shen is also antibacterial in function, inhibiting the growth of pseudomonas, E. coli, vibrio proteus, B typhi, shigella, and staph. It increases the metabolism and immunity of the body. and actively lowers blood cholesterol.. If that is not enough, it has been shown to lower blood sugar and is used for the treatment of hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) and splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) in the last stage of schistosomiasis and improves the liver function. It has no estrogenic action, however. It is sometimes used singly for coronary heart disease or in the compound form and Dan Shen pills.
There are myriad whole and natural herbs in the traditional Chinese pharmacy for treating hypertension. When prescribed by a qualified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they are perfectly safe. All herbs should be prescribed by such a professional and not just taken over the counter like vitamin pills, because each herb has its own characteristics as well as each individual human being has their own characterisitics and imbalances in their system. The patient’s condition dictates which herb is best for him/her. It is not a matter of one size fits all. Even though two people have hypercholesterolemia or hypertension, for example, they will likely require different herbal formulas. If the innate quality of an herb is warm, like ling zhi, it would not be suitable for a person with a heat condition internally. That is important to determine, whether the person’s systemic condition is predominantly hot or cold. A person with a preponderance of heat should take another herb that is cold in nature to provide the actions desired . That is just one of the many aspects that is important to determine in each individual in order for an herb and a formula to be effective. This determination should be left to the professional, but it is important for the individual to know that the just-right formula for them is available without taking medications.
Another factor is diet, and a very important one. Knowing which foods have what actions and effects in the body as well as the innate qualities of the foods will allow the individual to make wise and healthy choices. Both soybeans and mung beans are recommended by Oriental medicine for cleansing arteries, although nearly all beans, peas, and lentils are beneficial. This is partly because legumes are a good source of choline, a lipotropic agent that controls fat metabolism; choline is also a primary component of lecithin. When heat symptoms occur with arterial problems, the cooling qualities of soy and mung bean sprouts are useful. These sprouts are commonly found in grocery stores and markets with well-stocked produce. Sprouts are also an excellent source of vitamin C, as are cabbage, parsley, bell peppers and citrus. Eating the white insides of peppers, the core of cabbage, and a little of the pulp and inner peel of citrus fruits provides bioflavonoids, which work synergistically with Vitamin C to strengthen blood vessel walls.
Plant fiber, particularly that in whole grains, helps to reduce fat in the blood and prevent hardening of the arteries. Because of this now-widespread knowledge many people have started to include extra fiber in the diet in the form of bran. Too much isolated bran, however, can be unhealthy in other respects. Eating the whole grain with all of its fiber and other nutrients intact produces better results than eating the bran alone. Most helpful for cleansing the arteries are the grains with a slightly bitter flavor: rye (an old European remedy for reducing arterial plaque), quinoa, amaranth, and oats, but all other whole grains are helpful too. Unprocessed grains are also an excellent source of niacin, and they all contain the freshest type of vitamin E. in their oils.
Shiitake (Japanese black mushrooms) are known to clear the arteries of fat and cholesterol. Western mushrooms do not have this effect. Seaweed, miso soup, Irish moss and corsican seaweed guard against fat and cholesterol buildup and have a mild anticoagulant effect on the blood. Irish moss contains calcium chloride, which acts as a heart tonic and glandular balancer. It can be used as food and also the extracted carrageenan as a thickening agent in stews, gravies, salad dressings, etc., as a substitute for agar-agar. Specific nutrients that reduce cholesterol and saturated fat in the blood and arteries are lecithin, vitamins E and C. and niacin. Remember, it is always better to get these nutrients through whole and unprocessed foods and that nature gave us all we need to be well if we just reach out for it.