Alternative Remedies for Heart Desease

Several natural therapies are promoted as treatments for heart disease. Some have been put to the test in scientific studies and look promising, but others have not held up to scientific scrutiny. Many such herbal remedies and alternative treatments—available in drugstores and on the Internet—remain unproved and therefore should be taken with caution.

And because herbs and other nutritional supplements are not reviewed for purity or effectiveness by the FDA, you can’t be sure that what you’re buying is effective or even that the bottle contains the substance on the label. If you take any herbal remedies, be sure to tell your doctor.

These preparations may hinder or exaggerate the effects of prescription drugs used to manage cardiovascular disease. Indeed, heart patients are more vulnerable than most others to adverse drug interactions. Here is some information about two popular alternative remedies for heart disease. Of course, there are many others out there.

Coenzyme Q10

This vitamin-like substance is found in every cell in the body but is most prevalent in tissues with high energy demands, such as the muscles of the heart. Many advocates of alternative medicine believe that it can strengthen the heartbeat by increasing the cellular fuel available to the heart muscle.

And some small studies have suggested that it might help patients with angina, heart failure, or other cardiovascular problems. But a few years ago, researchers in Australia conducted a rigorous trial that evaluated coenzyme Q10 in thirty patients with heart failure.

All were taking conventional medicines, but for twelve weeks each subject also took either coenzyme Q10 or a placebo. At the end of the study, there was no change in the strength of the heartbeat as evaluated by echocardiography and cardiac catheterization. And the people who took coenzyme Q10 did not feel better or report improved ability to function.

Chelation Therapy

Chelation therapy uses infusions, or slow injections, of a chemical called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). This process is sometimes used to remove toxic levels of lead, iron, or other metals from the body. (The metals exit the body via the urine.) Some experts think that the oxidation of LDL cholesterol requires interaction with such metals.

The idea behind chelation for cardiovascular disease is that removing some of these metals from the bloodstream will also reduce oxidation—and this “antioxidant” effect might improve blood vessel function. By some estimates, as many as 500,000 Americans are spending more than $3 billion per year on chelation.

But little scientific research has assessed its value for heart disease. In 2000, the American Heart Journal published a review of small studies and concluded that chelation was ineffective for heart disease. As is the case with many alternative remedies, clinical trials are needed to prove or disprove the effectiveness of this therapy.

A large trial conducted by the National Institutes of Health will do just that. Scheduled to end in 2008, the study will determine whether chelation therapy is safe for people who have heart disease and whether it decreases the chances of another heart attack.

Because of the different degrees of heart disease and its different causes, no one treatment style will suit all. For some, diet and exercise will work well enough that no medication is needed. For others, lifestyle changes will have to be supplemented with a medication or two.

And for still others, their heart disease is so serious that they need surgery to correct it. It’s important to remember that changing your diet, exercise, and smoking habits are important ways to keep heart disease at bay, even if you’re on other treatments as well.