Thus far in this series we have described two other powerful herbs for coronary heart disease: hawthorn from the Western herbal tradition, and dan shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) from the Chinese herbal tradition. Rounding out the trio with arjuna, a botanical from the Ayurvedic herbal tradition, we see that while all three have similar properties and effects, each has their own distinct virtues that work very nicely to complement each other in an herbal formula.
All three promote blood circulation, probably by making the blood less viscous or 'sticky.' Because of this shared blood thinning property, the same precaution holds for all three, which is that one should not take them with blood-thinning drugs and should consult with a qualified medical practitioner before using these herbs.
Hawthorn is particularly rich in flavonoids, which accounts for its well-known benefits for the heart. Dan shen contains tanshinone, which is a diterpenoid napthoquinone responsible for its blood-moving properties. Both hawthorn and dan shen also have mild calming properties so that either are effective for most cardiovascular diseases ranging from hypertension, arrhythmias, angina, hypertension, and heart failure, to strokes.
Arjuna is also rich in antioxidant effects as the other two herbs due to its flavonoid content, but it uniquely also possesses cardiac glycosides. A mention of cardiac glycosides usually brings up a red flag of caution because of their toxicity. (The notorious digitalis, derived from the common foxglove plant, is used medically to both slow and strengthen heart contraction, which sounds like a great thing, but it is quite toxic and most herbalists avoid it due to its narrow safety range.) In the case of arjuna, its cardiac glycosides are potent but safe. This means that while it possesses all the virtues of hawthorn and dan shen, arjuna is also able to gently strengthen and slow the heart rate with no risk of any adverse effects.
There's a well-known Chinese adage that says, 'It is far more difficult to win a battle if one begins to forge weapons after the war is in progress.' What this means in terms of cardiovascular disease is that along with following a healthful regime of regular moderate exercise, and a diet with adequate protein and essential fatty acids, organic whole grains, fruits and vegetables, it is the better part of wisdom to include herbs such as hawthorn, dan shen and/or arjuna as 'special foods' for the heart, for both the prevention and at least part of the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Finally, having said this, I must reiterate that cardiovascular diseases are serious and life-threatening. It is therefore prudent that one consults with a qualified medical doctor and discusses the possibility of integrating or using herbs such as the three that I've presented as a substitute or at least in complement to whatever is medically recommended. While a cardiologist should be your first stop when dealing with such diseases, most are not trained herbalists and should not be expected to know the herbs described in this series. Chinese herbalists, licensed naturopathic medical doctors, experienced professional clinical herbalists such those with a registered herbalist degree (RH), professional American Herbalists Guild (AHG) members, and finally graduates of the East West Herb School with an East West Certified Herbalist (EWCH) degree should be able to offer appropriate guidance.
For a private herbal consultation contact Michael Tierra O.M.D., RH or Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., RH, at the East West clinic (831) 429-8066.
Int J Cardiol. 1995 May;49(3):191-9.Salutary effect of Terminalia Arjuna in patients with severe refractory heart failure.
Bharani A, Ganguly A, Bhargava KD.