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Herbs to Enhance Circulation

Although the modern description of the circulatory system is generally credited to William Harvey in 1628, an understanding of the channels of circulation carrying energy and vital fluids to the tissues of the body was know n to ancient Chinese and Indian physicians. Ancient healers also recognized that blockages to circulatory flow resulted in illness and death. Herbal medicines to improve circulation have been explored around the world, and many of them have been essential in the development of modern medicines. Digitalis, the heart stimulant, is derived from foxglove, an important cardiac tonic prized by the ancient Egyptians, and the blood pressure medicine called reserpine is an extract of snakeroot, well known to Ayurvedic doctors since antiquity. Because of the wide natural variation in the potency of these botanical medicines, the standardization of pharmacologically derived drugs was a major advance in the safe use of these powerful substances.

Circulatory herbs that are less potent and less risky can be grouped into three main categories: those that reduce fats in the blood, those that have a thinning effect on the blood, and those that have a tonic effect on the heart. Garlic and guggulu fall into the first category. Although many earlier reports suggested that garlic had a modest fat lowering effect, a recent study has cast some doubts on this property. Guggulu, the resin from a small native Indian tree, has consistently shown itself as a safe and effective lipid-lowering herb.

The tendency for blood to stagnate or clot contributes to the risk of cardiovascular attacks and strokes. A variety of herbs and spices have been shown to effect platelets, the tiny blood components that initiate the clotting process. Turmeric, cumin, fever-few, and onion all keep platelets from sticking together too easily, although their clinical effectiveness remains to be defined. Although garlic�s role in lowering blood lipids may be controversial, its effect on platelets is generally well accepted.

Circulatory tonics have a supportive effect on the heart. In the West, hawthorn has been used since the Middle Ages. It increases blood supply to the heart, inhibits the development of atherosclerosis, strengthens heart contractions, and mildly lowers blood pressure. These combined effects improve the quality of live in people with heart disease. The Ayurvedic equivalent of hawthorn is arjuna, the bark of a tree that has been used in India for over three thousand years. Studies have suggested that this ancient heart tonic can reduce cholesterol levels, improve the strength of heart contractions, and lower the frequency of chest pain episodes. Although these herbal heart tonics may offer new approaches to the treatment of our society�s most common serious illness, we strongly recommend that you consult with your physician before using them.

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