I have long been interested in herbs for their medicinal value, from fighting the common cold and flu to boosting the immune system. Herbs for your heart are an especially fascinating and important topic that is often the subject of scientific research, while many people who are looking for alternative and complementary health solutions frequently turn to plant-based remedies.
So which herbs for your heart are being studied and how do they fare? I can’t possibly cover all of the research here, but a few studies caught my eye. In the future, I’m sure I’ll return to this topic.
Variety of herbs for your heart
A survey of the scientific literature shows that a combination of garlic, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, rosemary, paprika, and oregano has been the subject of two studies, while other research has looked at individual contenders as well.
In fact, a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University nutritionists found that the abovenamed combination was capable of reducing triglyceride levels by as much as 31 percent in healthy, overweight men when the spices were included as part of a high-fat meal. The control group in this case were individuals who ate the same high-fat meal but without the benefit of the spices.
Triglycerides are a nasty type of fat found in the blood. After you eat, your body transforms calories that you don’t use immediately into triglycerides, which are then tucked away in fat cells.
When you need those fats for energy between meals, hormones cause them to be released. However, if you consume more calories than you use up, you may end up with high triglyceride levels.
According to the American Heart Association, “optimal” triglycerides levels are 100 mg/dL (1.1 mmol/L) or lower. Generally, clinicians consider a value of less than 150 mg/dL (less than 1.7 mmol/L) to be normal. Since diet and lifestyle modifications (e.g., exercise, weight loss, herbal remedies) can have a positive impact on triglyceride levels, such an approach is highly encouraged rather than resorting to medications and their side effects.
Garlic and garlic combos
Studies of garlic and the heart have come up with mixed results. According to Ann C. Skulas-Ray, research associate in nutritional sciences and Sheila G. West, professor of biobehavioral health and nutritional sciences, both at Pennsylvania State University, a meta-analysis of the research shows that in general, use of garlic can reduce total cholesterol by 8 percent, which is associated with a 38 percent decrease in a heart event among people age 50 years. The amount of garlic used in the various studies varied widely, from 600 to 5,600 mg garlic powder to 4 to 10 grams raw garlic.
A study in rats looked at the effect of garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper individually and in combination in rats fed a high cholesterol/high-fat diet. Each of the spices and the combination resulted in significant benefits in factors related to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the total impact on the body from free radicals plus other toxic elements, such as smoking, radiation, toxins in food and water, and so on. In other words, oxidative stress plays a big role in heart disease.
Another garlic study looked at the impact of the herb in people with high blood pressure, a significant risk factor in heart disease. Of the nine reviewed double-blind trials, the authors found that garlic lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure when compared with placebo, but that the evidence was not strong.
Cinnamon for your heart
Cinnamon is another spice that has been studied for its impact on heart health. Once again, study results are mixed, but there are some encouraging findings. For example, one study reported that total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), and triglyceride levels dropped by 7 percent to 30 percent among adults with type 2 diabetes (individuals with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease) who consumed from 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon per day when compared with a placebo group.
Another meta-analysis of 10 trials, also among people with type 2 diabetes, reported significant declines in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides when people took from 120 mg per day to 6 grams per day of cinnamon. However, another study did not find any differences in cholesterol or triglycerides among prediabetic adults who consumed 500 mg per day of cinnamon.
These studies represent only a few of the numerous scientific attempts to uncover the role of herbs for your heart. Although much is yet to be learned about this topic, experts have determined that these herbs and others are high in antioxidants, and that including herbs as a regular part of one’s diet—especially instead of salt, which can cause a rise in blood pressure—is a wise, healthful move.
So be good to yourself.
Experiment with different choices and combinations. Read up on new research on the benefits of herbs for your heart and your health. You may open up a whole new world of flavor and well-being. You also should inform your doctors about any dietary changes and use of herbal remedies, as they may have an effect on medications you are taking.
Allen RW et al. Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Family Medicine 2013; 11(5): 452-59
Khan A et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003; 26(12): 3215-18
Otunola GA et al. Selected spices and their combination modulate hypercholesterolemia-induced oxidative stress in experimental rats. Biological Research 2014 Mar 26; 47(1): 5
Rohner A et al. A systematic review and metaanalysis on the effects of garlic preparations on blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. American Journal of Hypertension 2014 Sep 18
Skulas-Ray AC et al. A high antioxidant spice blend attenuate postprandial insulin and triglyceride responses and increases some plasma measures of antioxidant activity in healthy, overweight men. Journal of Nutrition 2011 Aug 1; 141(8): 1451-57
West SG, Skulas-Ray AC. Spices and herbs may improve cardiovascular risk factors. Nutrition Today 2014 Sep-Oct; 49(5): S8-S9
Ziegenfuss TN et al. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2006; 3(2): 45-53