Heart disease gets a lot of headlines and with good cause. It is the leading cause of death across the world, responsible for as much as 31% of all global deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Heart blockages, which can develop for a variety of reasons are the main cause of most heart attacks and strokes. Fortunately, if detected early, diet and lifestyle modifications can help counter the risk of serious heart disease, possibly helping prevent heart blockages. Ayurveda has long recognized heart disease as one of the primary threats that can be managed through diet and lifestyle modifications.
While not every ailment is preventable, an Ayurvedic approach may help improve overall heart health, significantly lowering your risk of heart blockages.
Causes of Heart Blockage
There are numerous factors that can raise the risk of blockage formation, including heredity factors, but the most significant are dietary. Faulty diets are widely regarded as the biggest contributor to heart disease, as they can exacerbate various conditions or parameters that set the stage for heart blockages and other heart diseases. Poor dietary choices put you at risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Keeping the role of diet in mind, the main causes of heart blockages would include:
- High intake of sugar and salt
- High intake of foods containing trans fats and saturated fats
- Nutritional deficiencies resulting from high intake of processed foods and inadequate intake of whole foods
Other risk factors that should be considered include the lack of physical activity, high stress levels, age, family history, and smoking.
The Best Ingredients for Heart Blockage Management
While your overall diet and lifestyle have the biggest influence on heart blockage formation and the progression of heart disease, simply making sure to include certain ingredients can help. Here are some ingredients that work effectively to lower the risk of blockage formation, reducing any need for heart blockage surgery.
Native to India, Nepal, and Bhutan, cardamom is a common folk spice used to improve blood circulation and offer relief from cardiovascular problems. Perhaps one of this herb’s most prominent features is its outstanding ability to reduce high blood pressure, a common cause of heart disease that is closely linked to heart blockages.
Green cardamom pods in wooden spoon
According to one study which investigated the effect of cardamom on subjects with stage 1 hypertension, researchers observed that, “cardamom effectively reduces blood pressure, enhances fibrinolysis and improves antioxidant status.” As heart blockages increase blood pressure, cinnamon is a useful addition to any heart blockage treatment diet.
One of the most valued herbs in Ayurveda, used to treat a variety of health conditions, garlic is also recommended for heart blockages. Ayurvedic physicians regard it as an effective aid to lower ama levels in the body and cleansing for the arteries. Today, most dietitians also recommend the addition of garlic to any diet for heart blockage treatment.
Garlic has gained widespread acceptance as a heart blockage remedy that can lower the risk of heart disease because of extensive research conducted over the last few decades. According to one of the many studies, consuming garlic supplements results in significant reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of blockage formation. “We conclude that garlic supplementation has the potential for cardiovascular protection,” the researchers wrote.
Cinnamon is a flavorful and aromatic Ayurvedic spice that is noted for its bioactive properties, including antioxidant activity. As multiple studies confirm, cinnamon can reduce high blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity — both factors associated with elevated risk of heart disease.
Additionally, research published in the journal Diabetes Care, also states that cinnamon may directly reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. At the same time, it can preserve, or in some cases even increase, levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. This reduces the risk of blockage formation or progression of partial to full blockages.
Feel free to incorporate cinnamon into your diet by adding it whole or as a powder to your meals. If preferred, you can also consume it as a refreshing herbal tea or in the supplement form.
4. Arjuna Bark
Although not your typical kitchen ingredient, Arjuna warrants a mention in this list for the simple reason that it is the most highly recommended Ayurvedic herb for heart blockages and other forms of heart disease. The bark of the tree is used to prepare a variety of Ayurvedic remedies and features in several Ayurvedic texts including the Sushruta Samhita, Astang Hridayam, and Charaka Samhita.
The therapeutic application of Arjuna in heart blockage treatment is linked with its potent antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, and anti-ischemic properties. These effects have been confirmed through several experimental and clinical studies. A review of these studies also goes on to describe arjuna as a cardio-protective and anti-ischemic agent that works as a powerful antioxidant, regulating lipid levels and restricting damage to the heart.
You can get your daily dose of this medicinal herb consuming herbal extracts, capsules, powders, or teas that contain arjuna.
5. Homemade Heart Tonic
If you’re willing to take a little trouble, you can even make your own heart health tonic at home by simply throwing together a few common kitchen ingredients. All you need is some ginger, garlic, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and honey. These ingredients work together to provide strong cardio-protective benefits and can be used as follows:
- Grate a cube of ginger and mix it with ½ cup of fresh lemon juice, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, and a few cloves of fresh garlic.
- Bring the mixture to boil and wait for it to thicken.
- Add a few tablespoons of honey after it cools down to sweeten it.
- Store the solution in an airtight jar in your refrigerator and consume a teaspoon of the solution each morning.
Ayurvedic Diet for Heart Blockage
Ayurvedic dietary recommendations for heart blockage management are not very different from conventional advice, with experts warning against the high intake of processed fats, sugar, and salt. However, Ayurvedic recommendations have been consistent over millennia and include a few additional suggestions because of the influence of various food combinations and the influence of food on ama levels. The best thing that you can do would be to eat right for your dosha type, while following the broad recommendations of hypertension diets like the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is regarded as the most effective diet for managing or preventing heart disease.
DASH diet emphasizes whole foods, including fresh fruits, veggies, whole grain, nuts, seeds, and lean meats
Before we get down to things you can eat, take note of these three fundamental principles that should be the backbone of your diet.
- Sodium: Maintain a daily intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium or less. Don’t exceed this level. The bulk of our sodium intake today comes from salt, which is also ever present in most processed foods.
- Water: Ensure adequate hydration by drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. Individual fluid requirements can vary, which is why the 8 glass rule is just used as a reference point. To up your water intake, you can also consume herbal teas and fruits like melons in addition to consuming water.
- Calories: Depending on your physical activity, weight, and gender, caloric requirements can vary significantly, which is why it is advisable to use a calorie calculator or consult a nutritionist to identify your requirements. On an average though, you should aim to consume around 2,000 calories per day.
What Can I Eat?
- Whole grains: You can eat several servings of whole grain bread, rice, cereal, and pasta as part of your main meals for the day. Avoid refined grains as they have poor nutritional value and cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
- Vegetables: Fresh vegetables are always healthy and can be eaten raw, cooked, steamed, or roasted. Preparation recommendations can also vary depending on your dosha type. Opt for tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, legumes, and similar vegetables that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some vegetables that are notable for their heart health benefits include the likes of bitter gourd and asparagus.
- Fruits: Fresh fruits are always a healthy snacking option, providing you with a variety of essential nutrients and high quality dietary fiber. While fresh fruit juices are healthy too, they do not contain much fiber and also tend to be stripped of much of their nutrition. When opting for canned or packaged fruits, make sure that they don’t contain added sugar.
- Nuts & seeds: Nuts are often regarded as fattening, but when eaten in moderation they can be extremely healthy, even providing heart health benefits. This is because they contain healthy fats like omega-3s, which are believed to play a direct role in reducing the risk of heart attacks. Nuts also contain fiber and other healthy fats that help to regulate cholesterol levels.
- Meats: Make sure to consume only lean, fat-free meats that are rich in protein and minerals such as iron. The best choices would include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as they are not only good sources of protein, but they are also the best foods for healthy fats like omega-3s. Other healthy meats would include chicken and turkey, but all meat intake should be strictly moderated.
- Fats & oils: Restricting all fat intake may seem like a good idea, but can actually result in severe nutritional deficiencies, worsening your health. Fats are in fact vital for nutrient absorption and healthy immune function. However, you need to be cautious, avoiding saturated and trans fats, instead opting for monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados for example.
Despite the high mortality rates, with heart disease accounting for a third of all global deaths, heart disease is more often than not completely preventible. As emphasized in Ayurveda, preventive strategies that involve diet and lifestyle choices are crucial to lowering the risk of heart disease. One of the biggest and most avoidable risk factors for heart disease is smoking. Quitting smoking, won’t just save your lungs, it will save your heart too.
Of course, despite our best efforts, heart disease can sometimes develop as a result of factors that are beyond our control. In such situations, timely detection makes all the difference, which is why it is important to go for regular health checks once you reach your 30s.
- “Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs).” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds).
- Dwivedi, S., & Chopra, D. (2014). Revisiting Terminalia arjuna – An Ancient Cardiovascular Drug. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 4(4), 224–231. http://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.139103
- Varshney R., Budoff M.J. (2016). Garlic and Heart Disease. The Journal of nutrition. Feb;146(2):416S-421S. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.202333.
- Akilen R., Tsiami A., Devendra D., Robinson N. (2010). Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Diabetic medicine: a journal of the British Diabetic Association. Oct;27(10):1159-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2010.03079.x.
- Crawford P. (2009). Effectiveness of cinnamon for lowering hemoglobin A1C in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: JABFM. Sep-Oct;22(5):507-12. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2009.05.080093.
- Khan A., Safdar M., Ali Khan M.M., Khattak K.N., Anderson R.A. (2003). Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care. Dec;26(12):3215-8.
- Verma S.K., Jain V., Katewa S.S. (2009). Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Indian journal of biochemistry & biophysics. Dec;46(6):503-6.