If you’ve been diagnosed with arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis, your doctor will likely prescribe a statin drug to lower your cholesterol, an ACE-inhibitor to further prevent your arteries from narrowing, a beta blocker to lower blood pressure, and an anticoagulant. Taking all these medications may be burdensome. But if you want to prevent a serious complication such as stroke or heart attack, popping pills is a must.
Another way to improve the flexibility of the arteries and increase blood flow is by taking natural supplements. The following exotic-sounding dozen herbs are backed by research to improve the markers of arteriosclerosis.
Tribulus terrestris extract
Tribulus is best known as a sexual-performance enhancing herb. Psychology Today says it helps both women and men in that department, including low libido and erectile dysfunction. A study also shows that tribulus decreased serum lipids in rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet. The rabbits who were treated with tribulus extract also showed decreased levels of total cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), the so-called “good” cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), the “bad” cholesterol; and triglycerides in the blood.
Although the botanical name of this herb sounds like it comes from the other side of the world, you’ve actually heard of it. Commonly known as basil, the essential oil from this plant has been shown to possess high antioxidant, antimicrobial, antihypertensive, anticancer, and antiinflammatory activities. It was also shown to reduce lipid profiles in rats with abnormally-high levels of fats in the blood. Basil also reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL-C, and increased HDL levels.
Keep in mind eating a slice of pizza or a heaping bowl of pasta with a few sprigs of basil on top probably won’t do much for your arteries. If you’re going to get any benefit from basil (or any of the other dozen herbs mentioned here), you need to take a concentrated herbal extract.
Better known as red sage, this plant is native to Japan and China. Treatment of rats fed with high-fat and high-cholesterol diets along with red sage ethanol extract reduced triglyceride and LDL-C levels; HDL-C levels increased.
If you see this herb in the wild, you’ll know why this twisted plant is called “dog-strangling vine.” Traditionally used as a treatment for menopause, this herb, which is native to Korea and Japan, has also shown to help with osteoarthritis. As for the arteries, rats with high cholesterol who were treated with this plant experienced lower triglycerides and LDLs, and improved HDL scores.
Arjuna markedly decreased cholesterol, triglycerides and LDLs while increasing HDL levels in this study. It also lessened atherosclerotic lesions in the aortas of rabbits fed a high-fat diet. The medicinal part of this tree comes from the bark. Studies seem to support its folk use for cardioprotection. It appears to reduce pressure and pulse rate, and may increase aerobic exercise capacity. Only one study exists on otherwise healthy persons, but Arjuna showed benefit in improving left ventricle function in an exercise test, says Examine.com
King Solomon’s Seal plant has roots (no pun intended) in Biblical times. So named because the mark or scar on the root after the stem dies resembles the seal that King Solomon used during mystical practices. The herb is said to possess an innate wisdom to “restore proper tension to the ligaments, regardless of whether they need to be loosened or tightened.”
Research shows this highly-prized herb contains fat-lowering properties. In another study involving rabbits with atherosclerosis, King Solomon’s Seal was shown to lower cholesterol, LDL-C, and lipoprotein(a).
The Bible of traditional herbal medicine, the Compendium of Materia Medica, stated in 1758 that Panax notoginseng is “more precious than gold.” For affairs of the heart, a study in Frontiers in Pharmacology doesn’t dispute that theory, calling the herb one with obvious efficacy and favorable safety, showing a great promise as a novel option for coronary artery disease (CAD). Animal experiments have shown that this plant can improve the energy metabolism of myocardial cells, reduce myocardial damage, and reduce serum lipids.
Call ‘em caraway seeds or black cumin, nigella sativa prevents the formation of early atherosclerotic lesions in rabbits with high cholesterol, says this study.
In Asia, this herb (commonly named “Indian Whitehead”) is widely used for treating diabetes. It was shown to lower serum cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL levels in 407 rats with hyperlipidemia.
Hailing originally from Thailand and Myanmar this celebrated anti-aging herb is most popular with women undergoing menopause. A 2-month study in 19 postmenopausal women concluded that taking Pueraria mirifica supplements increased HDL cholesterol by 34% and reduced LDL cholesterol by 17%.
Along with basil mentioned earlier, this is another herb you may be familiar with. Otherwise known as St. John’s Wort, hypericum is best known as a natural mood enhancer. This study also shows that it significantly reduced cholesterol in rats fed a high-cholesterol diet.
Also known by its common name, milkvetch, astragalus is one of the most time-tested and popular herbs of the Orient. It supports the immune system and more recently has been used against heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. It’s thought to widen the blood vessels and increase the amount of blood pumped from your heart. Two studies on people with heart problems (this study and this one) showed that patients treated with astragalus experienced better cardiovascular results than those who received the standard treatment alone. And in a study on mice fed a high-fat diet, astragalus improved cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL levels.
Natural remedies for atherosclerosis: conclusion
More research is needed before any conclusions can be made. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. Drug companies cannot patent an herb or plant. And it’s very expensive to run a large clinical trial with people. Although rats, mice and rabbits are different from people, the preliminary experiments are promising. Hopefully, some of these herbs will be considered in future medicines. For the time being, many of these herbs are available as extracts online or in your local health food store. Consult with your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications. Finally, even if you were to take all dozen of these herbal extracts, they are not meant as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle.