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Heart (general health)

General characteristics

General characteristics

The heart is the organ responsible for pumping blood throughout the entire cardiovascular system in order to supply oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body.

The heart is divided into two halves that are separated by a partition called the septum. One half accepts de-oxygenated blood which is then pumped to the lungs to be refreshed with new oxygen and to have carbon dioxide removed, the other half accepts freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs and then pumps it to the rest of the body. See also 'blood pressure'.

It is made up of layers of muscle which give the heart its ability to act as a strong pump. These muscular walls are richly supplied with blood via a network of vessels which feed and oxygenate the structures of the heart. A series of specialised nerve patches and muscle fibres act as a natural inbuilt pacemaker, and tell the heart muscles when to contract (and pump) and when to relax (and re-fill with blood), giving the heart its characteristic wave like pumping action.

The heart is about the size of your clenched fist and in its lifetime will pump close to a million litres of blood.

Problems with the heart (enlargement, tissue destruction, irregular beats etc.) can arise as a result of many problems elsewhere in the body such as partially blocked vessels which cause the heart to need to pump stronger and faster, blockages in the blood vessels supplying the heart itself (angina or heart attack), congestion in the veins (such as varicosities or valve failure), infections, severe chronic stress, poor nutrition, lack of exercise (makes the heart 'lazy' and the blood sluggish), environmental factors, many prescribed medications (anti-depressants, painkillers, some antibiotics and statins[!]), other illness such as rheumatism, kidney problems and diabetes, smoking, being overweight (causes rise in blood pressure), increasing age and genetic predisposition.

As a result of these problems the heart may eventually become weakened and lose its efficiency as a pump. This causes fluids to build up in the lungs or other tissues and the heart to enlarge in an attempt to rectify the situation.

Keeping the heart healthy involves cleaning and strengthening the blood vessels through diet, herbs and exercise and recognising and remedying any other major underlying health problems.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Avoid all processed foods, especially ones containing hydrogenated fats and oil (such as all processed baked or fried foods and many margarines, ready made sauces and condiments).

Base your diet around a variety of fresh, organic if possible, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts.

Be sure to eat only organic meat and dairy products and in moderation.

Calcium and magnesium rich foods such as dark green leaves and carrots feed both the muscles and nerves so eat plenty to keep the heart well nourished. Raw unprocessed chocolate (sometimes called cacao nibs) is an excellent source of magnesium and is loaded with antioxidants.

Bitter foods are excellent for the heart, having a kind of strengthening effect, these include chicory leaves, radicchio, dandelion leaves, endives, olives, chard, citrus peels, brussels sprouts and artichoke. A fresh salad containing  some or all of these would be great alongside a main meal to provide valuable nutrients to the heart and the whole body.

Include plenty of plant fibre in the form of whole grains and fruit and vegetables. See also 'fibre' in the 'natural healing' section of this site for more food ideas.

Buckwheat contains a compound called rutin (part of the vitamin C complex) which helps to repair damaged blood vessels and restore some of their elasticity. Use it several times a week in soups or as a flour for baking.

Potassium plays a crucial role in keeping the whole of the body in good shape but is particularly beneficial to the blood vessels. It slows down the hardening process and keeps all the soft tissues of the body healthy, supple and capable of speedy healing. Foods high in potassium include bananas, cider vinegar and apples, potatoes (with skin on even higher), avocado, yogurt, black beans, lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, cooked spinach, swiss chard and nearly all green leaves including culinary and medicinal herbs, oranges, winter squash, artichoke, dried apricots and dates, sun dried tomatoes etc. See also 'minerals' in the 'natural healing' section of this site for more food ideas and a recipe for potassium broth.

Eat 3 bananas everyday for their high potassium content which is used in the body to open and regulate blood vessels.

Eat plenty of garlic and onions and the other members of the allium family such as leeks, chives, shallots etc for their artery dilating, plaque dissolving, blood clot prevention, blood thinning and purifying effects.

Cayenne or chilli balances blood pressure in the body by thinning the blood and therefore taking strain and stress away from the worse affected vessels.

Avoid the use of too many stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and stimulating herbs like kola. Avoid recreational drugs like cocaine or amphetamines as they put great stress on the heart, making it pump harder and faster for extended periods.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

One of the most useful plant for maintaining a healthy and strong heart is the hawthorn tree or bush, it allows a greater flow of blood to the heart muscle itself keeping it well nourished and in prime health. The flowers, flowering tops (with young emerging spring leaves) and the berries are all excellent medicine and could be collected as they come into season and used daily throughout the years with only positive results.

Use the hawthorn berry tincture as a protection for the health of the heart, 1 teaspoon in water 2 -3 times daily. Make a syrup from the berries and take it daily or use any of the parts as a tea. Hawthorn can be safely used for many years as both a preventative tonic and curative remedy.

Regular use of dandelion root and leaf tea can help to keep the heart and blood vessels in good condition.

Chilli (capsicum,cayenne) also has a profound action on the heart function and health (and the circulation of blood and health of blood vessels) and should be a part of the diet as a maintenance effort if there is any danger of heart problems or a few drops of tincture or pinch of powder added to any herbal tinctures or teas taken.

Red clover flowers help thin the blood, increase circulation, improve elasticty of blood vessels and improve the health of the entire cardiovascular system.

Motherwort is a plant that offers comfort and strength to the heart. It can regulate irregular heart (both slow and fast) beats, soothe palpitations and calm an overexcited or stimulated heart. Use it as a tincture with the hawthorn, in equal parts, as a heart protector or when you need it to regulate the beat and pulse. Tincture dose is a teaspoon in water up to 3 times daily or 2-3 cups of the tea using 2 teaspoons of herb per cup. It can be safely used over many months without a break or use it off and on for much longer periods.

Passionflower can help to calm a rapid heart beat or palpitations due to emotional stress or tension.

Daily nettle and oatstraw tea (equal parts) can help protect the heart and blood vessels and keep them nourished and flexible.

Holy thistle dried herb can be added to the above tea mixes for it is reputed to be a fine heart and circulatory bitter tonic.

Figwort has an interesting action on the heart muscle, it strengthens the force of the muscular contractions acting as a stimulant.

Regular consumption of schisandra berries will have an all round tonic effect on the heart, blood vessels and entire circulation.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Positive emotions like joy, peace, and compassion are very beneficial to the heart whilst more negative emotions like anger, jealousy and fear stress the heart. This has been known by natural healers for centuries but now science has discovered this profound truth.
Get a good nights sleep whenever possible. A regular lack of sleep (less than 6 hours a night) has been shown to increase the risk of heart diseases.
Meditation and relaxation have protective and beneficial health effects on the heart and entire body.
Exercise regularly, daily if possible, to keep the heart muscle fit and healthy, reduce blood pressure and keep weight normal.
Make sure your dental health is good and checked regularly. Dental problems such as plaque build up and tooth decay is now being linked to various health problems including heart disease.

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