From ancient tradition to modern practice: # 4
Cardiovascular Health and Traditional Chinese Medicine
The two leading causes of death in the West, stroke and heart
disease, are directly related to cardiovascular health. High
cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension) are conditions
with few symptoms but if diagnosed, are indications of a person's
increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Modern research in China has resulted in an integration of
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theories with Western
Medicine's understanding of the cardiovascular system. High Cholesterol and Chinese Medicine
TCM recognises the links between lifestyle, cholesterol levels and
coronary heart disease, by using the metaphor of Phlegm to describe
this condition. According to TCM, Phlegm is created when we eat a
poor diet or when our digestive system is not working optimally.
Phlegm can obstruct the proper flow of Qi and Blood in the body. For
some people, this can lead to chest pain or even heart attacks. Research evaluating traditional TCM treatments with modern tests
has shown some promising results. For example, a randomized
comparative study found that use of a Chinese formula was as
effective as the drug, Simvastatin in lowering cholesterol and
triglyceride levels and in increasing High Density Lipoprotein
levels.1 Another study looked at the effectiveness of using a single
acupuncture point in the treatment of high cholesterol. Out of 110
patients who were treated, 85% had measurable reductions in
cholesterol levels.2 The Okinawa Centenarian Study looked at the links between
lifestyle and health in Okinawa, Japan. The statistical information
collected revealed a changing pattern of risk for coronary heart
disease. Older Okinawans who maintained a traditional diet and
lifestyle had a low risk, while younger Okinawans who adopted a
more Western diet and lifestyle habits had a higher–than–average
risk of coronary heart disease.3 Hypertension and Chinese Medicine
TCM uses several different metaphors to describe the processes
involved in hypertension. One of the most important ones considers
the balance of Yin and Yang in the body. According to Chinese
theories, Yin and Yang are complementary opposites that keep each
other in balance. Yin is considered to be solid and heavy, while Yang
is seen as fluid and light. If there is not enough Yin to anchor Yang,
than Yang will float upwards. In the case of hypertension, aging and
chronic stress are things that consume Yin thus leaving Yang
unanchored. As Yang floats upward, blood pressure will rise, and
with it rises the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke. A Shanghai hospital reported that a modern Chinese formula was
highly effective at treating patients for hypertension. Several
studies on a total for 1300 patients found that 73-80% had a
reduction of blood pressure and alleviation of their symptoms.4 A
controlled clinical study that compared Qi Gong to pharmaceutical
medications followed 204 patients over a 20-year period. It found
that the patients who practiced Qi Gong had half the stroke
mortality of the group treated with pharmaceuticals.5 A 25-year study of over 12 000 people looked at the relationship
between blood pressure and mortality in six different regions of the
world. The study found that mortality rates were highest in the U.S.
and Northern Europe and lowest in Japan and the Mediterranean.
The researchers speculated that dietary differences play an
important role in the measured differences.6 Tips for Cardiovascular Health
As the above research shows us, diet and lifestyle can affect
cardiovascular health. Don't smoke and only drink in moderation.
As well, avoid salty, fat-rich foods, especially deep fried food and
margarine. Try reducing the amount of meat in your diet and eat
more plant-based proteins. A diet that emphasizes whole grains and
lightly cooked vegetables is best for optimal digestion. Be sure to
include unsaturated fats in your diet. Examples of foods with these
good fats are cold water fish, nuts, leafy green vegetables, flax oil,
olive oil and canola oils. (Remember not to heat flax oil as this will
destroy its beneficial essential fatty acids.) Be sure to do regular
exercise and find ways to reduce daily stress levels.
1. Zhong Yi, et al. "Experimental study of Yishou Tiaozhi Tablet on inhibiting
hyperlipemia and atherosclerosis". CJIM 1998: 18(8).
2. Guan Zunhui, et al. "110 cases of hyperlipemia treated with acupuncture". C J Acup.
3. Willcox BW, C. Willcox and M. Suzuki. The Okinawa Program. 2001. Clarkson Potter
4. Chen Keji et al. Research of cardiac and cerebral disease. Shanghai: Shanghai Science
and Technology Press. 1988:77 and Kuang Ankun, et al. Hypertension in China.
Changsha: Hunan Science and Technological Press. 1989:120.
5. Kuang Ankun. " Studying the mechanism of Qigong in hypertension". J TCM 1992. (4):9.
6. Van Den Hoogen P. et al. "The relation between blood pressure and mortality due to
coronary heart disease among men in different parts of the world". N Engl J Med 2000;
I am indebted to my instructor Dr. Kai Chen M.M., Ph.D. (Beijing) for summarizing the
Chinese research used in this factsheet. Disclaimer This factsheet is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. The information provided is not to be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified James Saper R.TCM.P.
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