Looking at Heart Health With Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Cardiovascular disease is the world’s deadliest disease. The World Health Organization estimates that 17.9 million people die from it each year.

What does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) say about cardiovascular disease? The Epoch Times looked at TCM and its relation to heart health.

It’s no secret that dietary habits are a big factor in cardiovascular health. In fact, a long-term study in Japan showed that people who eat more salt and fewer vegetables, fruits, and fish have a significantly higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at Japan’s Shiga University followed 9,115 Japanese people, aged 30 to 79, for 29 years. The study, published in Japan’s Circulation Journal, aimed to assess participants’ daily intake of vegetables, fruits, fish, and salt.

Researchers found that a lower intake of vegetables, fruits, and fish, coupled with a higher intake of salt, raised the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. When the daily intake of vegetables, fruits, and fish was less than 175 grams, 100 grams, and 40 grams respectively, and the salt intake was higher than 8 grams for men and 7 grams for women, death from cardiovascular disease increased by 2.87 times. Study researchers produced a cardiovascular risk assessment chart, which encourages individuals to assess their diets to make sure they are eating a certain amount of vegetables, fruits, fish, and salt. This chart can be used as a basis for nutrition and health guidance by professional dietitians.

The Japanese study underlines the role that daily diet plays in cardiovascular health. This dovetails nicely with a TCM approach, which emphasizes that people should have some restraint and balance in their daily diets, instead of eating whatever they want.

Xiaoxia He, a former TCM doctor in Shanghai, told The Epoch Times that cardiovascular disease is one of the most common diseases of the elderly and is difficult to cure.

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that long-term stress leads to stagnation of Qi. Qi is one of the fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine, and can be understood as “vital energy.” Stagnation of Qi occurs when the energy inside the human body does not flow as easily and freely as it should, which in turn leads to poor blood circulation. In addition, overexertion, irregular meals, or overeating can put an extra burden on the heart. Therefore, stress relief, positive thinking, moderate and regular diet, and lifestyle changes are indispensable elements for cardiovascular health.

In addition, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia patients are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Therefore maintaining normal blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, are also critical factors in cardiovascular health.

Food as Medicine

“Let food be your medicine” is one of the theoretical tenets of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dr. He proposed five dietary recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention:

1. Eat less sugar and fat. Avoid a strong-flavored diet.

2. Eat more seafood such as kelp, jellyfish, mussels, and seaweed. Seafood contains high-quality protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and a variety of inorganic salts. Seafood can help block the intestinal absorption of cholesterol, while softening blood vessels.

3. Eat a low-salt diet. The sodium in salt can cause high blood pressure, which exacerbates coronary heart disease.

4. Eat more vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C can promote cholesterol hydroxylation, reducing the accumulation of cholesterol in the blood and tissues.

5. Be disciplined at each meal.  Stop eating when after feeling 70 percent full.

Dr. He quoted the classic work of traditional Chinese medicine, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine: “Remain detached and empty-minded, and genuine Qi will flow easily. Connecting with the spirit within, how could illness arise?” The essence of traditional Chinese medicine is to calmly nourish the spirit and foster optimism.  Happiness, joy, anger, sadness, preoccupation, and fear should not be excessive. This mind-body connection makes it perfect for an age when so many struggle with mental illness.

Ellen Wan

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Ellen Wan has worked for the Japanese edition of The Epoch Times since 2007.

Weber Lee

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