Consider CAM for heart health

The statistics on heart disease in the U.S. continue to be staggering.

Per the U.S. Center for Disease Control, about one in every four deaths in the U.S. is due to heart disease—making it a leading cause of death for Americans.

Each year, more than 730,000 Americans have a heart attack, with nearly 30 percent of these happening in individuals who have already had one.

From the research available, we know that the majority of cardiovascular disease is preventable. By reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, we are likely to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Risk Factors

The World Health Organization states that “the cause of heart attacks and strokes are usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia.”

Diet can be effective in reducing several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia.

Evidence shows that the benefits of a healthy diet are most effective in high-risk individuals. It is reasonable to state that healthy diets are low-risk and have benefits beyond just heart disease prevention.

There are many dietary strategies aimed at reducing heart-related events such as reducing refined foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Diets that are higher in fiber and lower in red meat with a focus on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid are also promising for prevention and control of cardiovascular disease risk factors as published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Outside of the more commonly stated risk factors for heart disease, anxiety and depression have also shown a correlation with increased risk for heart disease. Anxiety and depression have proven difficult to effectively manage with medications alone and there is an ever greater need for safe and effective treatment of these risks.

CIM for Heart Health

Here is where complementary and integrative (CIM) therapies can be particularly beneficial. These therapies can help not only patients dealing with depression and anxiety, but also those coping with stress, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

Complementary therapies generally fall into three categories: mind-body medicine, traditional and herbal therapies and nutraceutical or supplements. Individuals coping with stress, anxiety, and depression may respond very well to mind-body practices such as massage, meditation, tai chi and yoga.

Complementary and allopathic medical treatments can work well together. Some of the more successful research for complementary medicine has been when used safely in combination with allopathic care.

Most physicians would agree that treatments with the best quality of evidence to reduce the risk of heart disease are going to be a priority. It is not possible to say, however, that we know how every individual patient will respond, what their values and preferences are for their health care, or if they will benefit greatly from our treatments.

Complementary and allopathic medicine work best when physicians and patients work together to decide the risks and benefits of therapies based on the facts available.

What The Research Says

In evaluating use of complementary and western medicine for treatment for heart disease, there are two main factors to be considered.
The first is “does the treatment fit the patient’s risk?” The common approach is for patients to use conventional western medical therapy; however, patients may benefit more from an integrative approach utilizing both conventional western treatments in collaboration with complementary therapies. It is even possible for some patients at high risk for cardiovascular events to use complementary medical treatment to work as an alternative to conventional medication.

There is a difference in the quality and amount of research we have between most allopathic therapies and complementary therapies such as massage therapy. It is difficult in many high-risk patients to make a case for not using allopathic medicine; however, these patients might benefit most from an integrative approach.

Massage, for example, has been indicated through research to decrease vital signs associated with anxiety as well as to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.

The second consideration is what supplements the patient may be taking and what interaction they may cause when combined with any physician-prescribed medications.

Today, cardiovascular health patients are encouraged to be more active in choosing their own therapies; the use of the internet has empowered them to explore more options available to them.

Taking good care of your heart is important at any age. If you already have some form of heart disease or have a family history of heart disease, it is important to have a team of health care providers who share your preferences and values and with whom you feel comfortable and confident.

You need providers who will take the time to give you personal, objective, evidence-informed advice.

This article is not intended to replace in-peson advice from a medical professional.

About the Authors

Brendan Smith, N.D., is a core faculty member at Bastyr University and Bastyr Center for Natural Health, where he supervises students in the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Clinic.

Jamey Wallace, N.D., is the chief medical officer at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, where he supervises student physicians in the Department of Naturopathic Medicine. He also sees patients in private practice at Bastyr Center.


If you enjoyed reading this MASSAGE Magazine online article, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for more articles about massage news, techniques, self-care, research, business and more, delivered monthly. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for additional unique content, including product announcements and special offers.