Complementary medicine incorporates many approaches for improving circulation and preventing heart problems:
* Nutritional therapists recommend decreasing proteins and saturated fats (found in red meat, cheese and cream, for example) and increasing daily intake of essential fatty acids (found in nuts, seeds and oily fish).
* Increasing intake of phytoestrogens – found in soya products, linseed, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and red clover – may also help to reduce cholesterol levels.
* Antioxidant nutrients – such as vitamins A, C and E and minerals selenium, zinc, manganese and copper – help to keep the arteries clear, as do bioflavonoids, found in fruits such as blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and plums. These can also be taken as supplements.
* Rutin, a bioflavonoid found in buckwheat and fruit pith, helps to strengthen capillary walls.
* Heart problems, such as irregular heartbeat, heart attack and hypertension, can be related to magnesium and potassium deficiency,. Therefore, foods rich in these, such as nuts and seeds (magnesium) and bananas (potassium), may be helpful.
* In cases of potassium and magnesium deficiency, naturopaths recommend drinking juiced carrot, beetroot and sauerkraut, which are all rich in these minerals.
* Herbalists recommend hawthorn to promote good circulation and remedy cardiovascular problems. Ginkgo biloba is said to improve microcirculation in the brain and extremities, while it’s claimed that horse chestnut is effective in the treatment of varicose veins, as is butcher’s broom.
* Ginger and garlic improve circulation and can be added to food.
* In Tibetan medicine, a herbal formula based on potentilla has been well researched and shown to be effective in remedying poor circulation.
* Stress management techniques, relaxation, aromatherapy, acupuncture,acupressure, bodywork therapies such as osteopathy and shiatsu, self-massage, yoga, t’ai chi, qigong and positive thinking have all been found to have a positive effect on heart function and circulation, as have regular exercise, losing weight and stopping smoking.
* Avoiding standing for long periods, as well as elevating the legs at the end of a long day, helps to prevent problems with the blood vessels in the legs, as does wearing support stockings.
Certain types of diuretics cause potassium retention and shouldn’t be combined with potassium-rich foods or supplements in case of potassium toxicity. If in doubt, seek medical advice.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.
First published in October 2002.