February is American Heart Month

February 5, 2023 Joe Brady

Did you know that some complementary health approaches have been studied to see whether they can help control heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels? Here’s what the research shows: Cardiovascular diseases (diseases of the heart or blood vessels) are the number one cause of death in the United States. The most common type of cardiovascular disease is coronary artery disease, in which the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked.

Several complementary health approaches have been studied to see whether they might help to control risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension). Some psychological or physical complementary health approaches, including meditation, tai chi, qigong, and yoga, may have beneficial effects on blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Some foods and dietary supplements, including cocoa, garlic, fish oil, and flaxseed, may also reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Certain dietary supplements, including soy protein, flaxseed, garlic, and green tea, may have modest cholesterol-lowering effects. Others, including chromium, vitamin C, and coenzyme Q10, have not been found to be helpful. Some dietary supplements, such as garlic and soy, may have beneficial effects on cholesterol, but their effects are small compared to those of cholesterol-lowering medicines.

Read more about what the science says about complementary and integrative approaches to helping reduce cardiovascular disease risks, including tai chi and green tea, and other approaches you can incorporate into your own life.

Green Tea

  • A small number of studies suggest that both green and black tea might have beneficial effects on some heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure and cholesterol. The research has limitations though, including how the data was evaluated and differences in study populations, so no definite conclusions have been reached.

Tai Chi

There’s promising evidence that some complementary approaches, including meditation, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga as well as garlic, fish oil, flaxseed, and green or black tea, may have beneficial effects on blood pressure.

A 2020 review looked at 28 studies (2,937 participants) and found that tai chi was better at lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure than health education/no treatment, other exercises, or antihypertensive drugs. The time duration, weekly frequency, and total weeks of tai chi sessions varied among the included studies. However, the authors said the studies were of poor quality and had many differences among them, warranting more research to confirm the conclusions.

A 2020 review evaluated the psychological well-being of adults who were 60 years of age and older and who had cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels). The review, which included 15 studies of 1,853 adults, found that tai chi was better than usual care or other types of exercise (e.g., walking, strength training) for improving quality of life and psychological well-being. The length of tai chi interventions ranged from 6 to 52 weeks, with an average of 36 tai chi sessions over the duration of the studies. The specific improvements varied depending on the type of cardiovascular disease, however. For example, when compared to usual care or other exercises, tai chi participants with coronary heart disease had better mental health quality of life, those with chronic heart failure experienced less depression and psychological distress, and those with high blood pressure had better physical health quality of life. The authors said that the quality of the studies was on average acceptable and that more rigorous studies are needed.

A 2018 review of 13 studies (972 participants) found that tai chi led to large and significant improvements in aerobic capacity among people with coronary heart disease when compared to active interventions (e.g., walking, stretching) and nonactive interventions (e.g., usual medical care). The tai chi interventions involved 30- to 90-minute sessions done one to seven times weekly for 12 weeks to 12 months. The authors rated the quality of the studies from moderate to strong, but the studies were very small, and the authors said that more high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings.

If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, follow the treatment plan prescribed by your health care provider. Don’t replace your conventional treatment with other products or practices. Talk with your healthcare provider about any complementary approaches you’re considering.

For more research information check out the NCCIH’S website here