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In this month of cupid's arrows, the emotional health of our heart is under the spotlight. Amid the deluge of chocolates and flowers, however, it's important to remember to nurture the physical health of this most vulnerable organ..

In this month of cupid's arrows, the emotional health of our heart is under the spotlight. Amid the deluge of chocolates and flowers, however, it's important to remember to nurture the physical health of this most vulnerable organ.

The heart is the pumping mechanism of the cardiovascular system, cardio referring to the heart, and vascular the blood vessels. It is a singular organ, pumping 30 times its own weight each minute, 7,000 litres of blood each year, through 100,000 km of blood vessels over a lifetime without a moment's rest. In traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, the heart is considered the seat of the emotions and intellect.

While the cardiovascular system is perhaps one of the easiest physiological systems to understand and fix, it also holds a position of great concern in the psyche of many Canadians.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death in both men and women, claiming approximately 80,000 lives per year in Canada alone. Most CVDs are lifestyle diseases and are usually preventable.

The most important tonics for the heart are lifestyle ones: healthy food with no trans fats, low hydrogenated fats, little to no simple carbohydrates, preservatives or other synthetic chemicals, clean air free of pollution and cigarette smoke, moderate exercise, and a positive attitude towards life.

Valentine's Day may well be beneficial for our cardiovascular health, as love is one of the best tonics for the heart. Many studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes a day with a pet can dramatically increase CVD patient longevity.

Herbal Remedies

The most common herbs used in good heart tonics in the Canadian health food market are hawthorn, garlic, cayenne, motherwort, and reishi. These ingredients can be used either in combination or as separate supplements.

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) has been shown to increase oxygen utilization by the heart, and increase enzyme metabolism in heart muscle.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is useful in controlling and preventing arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and lowering blood cholesterol.

Cayenne (Capsicum sp.) is a strong local stimulant for the circulatory system. Capsaicin, the major constituent of cayenne, has been shown to decrease platelet aggregation, significantly lower both plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, and also lower the ratio of LDL ("bad") to HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) lowers blood pressure, regulates the heart beat, and strengthens the heart.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) helps to reduce blood lipids, inhibiting angiotensin converting enzymes (responsible for narrowing the arteries in high blood pressure), and is known to stop blood clots. In studies in China it was shown to reduce the symptoms in 80 percent of myocardial infarction and angina cases, while being curative in 25 percent of cases.

Other supplements that are good adjuncts to herbal heart tonics include calcium/magnesium (300mg/300mg, twice daily), essential fatty acids (2,000 to 3,000 mg, twice daily), and coenzyme Q10 (50 mg, twice daily). The recommended dosages for herbs are: hawthorn (20 drops of extract or two capsules, twice daily), garlic (one to two capsules, twice daily), cayenne (one capsule, twice daily), motherwort (one to two ml of extract, twice daily), and reishi (15:1 extract; two capsules, twice daily).

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