February is American Heart Month—a good time to consider whether complementary health approaches can play a role in managing risk factors for heart disease. Let’s take a look at three important risk factors: high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking.
Cholesterol: If your cholesterol is high, your health care provider may recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes and prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicine. People sometimes wonder whether dietary supplements could also help. Current evidence indicates that a few, such as soy protein supplements and garlic, may have some effect on cholesterol, but those effects are small compared to the effects of cholesterol-lowering medicines.
High blood pressure: High blood pressure is managed with lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medicine. Some mind and body practices, such as meditation, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga, and certain dietary supplements, such as garlic and fish oil, may have small beneficial effects on blood pressure. However, these approaches have not been shown to have effects comparable to those of the medicines used to keep blood pressure under control.
Smoking: If you want to quit smoking, be aware that conventional treatments, including counseling and medication, can double or triple your chances of success. Certain mind and body practices, such as mindfulness meditation-based therapies, yoga, and relaxation techniques (guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation) may also be helpful.