A heart attack can be devastating, but the healing process is often slow, requiring the cardiac tissues to undergo repair. New research finds herbal medicine can speed up this healing process.
Research from the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine and China’s Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine has determined that herbal medicine as utilized by traditional Chinese practitioners has the ability to treat heart conditions.
The researchers conducted an extensive review of research to date that investigated different herbal medicines and heart disease.
The researchers divided the different TCM treatments into three different types. The first was research that used single herbs in treatment. This was followed by multiple herb formulas and extracts, and then drugs that have been produced from herbal extracts.
Traditional Chinese medicine views the blockage of blood to the heart and elsewhere in the body differently than conventional medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine looks at a heart attack as something provoked by a blockage of the Qi energy, which results in the blockage of circulation. Yet even when the researchers apply the conventional mechanisms, they find a plurality of effective treatments from TCM.
In order to relate heart attack mechanisms considered in conventional medicine, the researchers focused upon the studies’ effects relating to free radicals, superoxide dismutase, nitric oxide synthase, heme oxygenase, glutathione and others.
The researchers found that a number of TCM treatments proved to be anti-inflammatory. This means they were able to slow that both individual herbs and multiple herb decoctions reduce inflammation among the arteries and heart following a heart attack. They also showed that certain TCM herbs speed up the repair of heart and artery tissues that have been damaged from the heart attack.
The researchers confirmed these effects by seeing that herbs directly reduced inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, TNF-alpha and symptoms of inflammation such as CRP.
Some of the herbs found to have these effects in different studies include Salvia miltiorrhiza, Schisandra chinesis, and Stephania tetrandra.
Another mechanism that the researchers found was that some herbs helped prevent cell death (apoptosis) among cardiac tissues — which typically occurs following a heart attack.
The research found that several herbs prevented cell death from occurring following a heart attack.
The research found that two constituents of Rhodiola —Salidroside and Tyrosol — blocked the process of apoptosis. In addition, the research found that another Chinese herb, Leonurus, directly blocked apoptosis by modulating the cell’s genetic response (Bcl2/Bax) to the tissue damage.
The researchers also found that the extract called Forsythoside B was able to stimulate recovery following heart attack.
Other herbs found to halt cell death after heart attack included the TCM formula called Guan xin er hao, which consists of Safflower, Red peony, Salvia miltiorrhiza, Ligusticum wallichii, and Dalbergiae odoriferae (an extract of the heartwood of the Pterocarpus santalinus (Red Sandalwood) tree).
Some of the most interesting aspects of the research is that several herbs have been found to promote the growth of new blood vessels, which helps tissues damaged from a heart attack. This is called angiogenesis.
Some of the herbs that were found to stimulate angiogenesis included Radix et Rhizoma Rhodiolae Kirilowii — or roots of the Rhodiola rosea plant, formulated together with Trichosanthes kirilowii.
The research also found that certain TCM herbs are useful following a heart attack to increase circulation. One of the constituents found to have this effect was the constituent Tanshinone — derived from Salvia miltiorrhiza – along with the Radix et Rhizoma Rhodiolae Kirilowii formula.
The research also found that Astragalus membranaceus and Lycium barbarum were helpful in balancing the ion channels that relate to cardiac health, and the healing of the cardiac tissues after a heart attack.
The researchers concluded that while there needs to be more research, the evidence presents the fact that herbal medicine can be used to help treat heart attack victims by slowing or preventing cell and tissue damage, reducing inflammation, and stimulating the growth of new blood vessels to speed up healing.
Qing Liu, Jiqiang Li, Jing Wang, Jianping Li, Joseph S. Janicki, and Daping Fan, “Effects and Mechanisms of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Ameliorating Myocardial Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 925625, 14 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/925625