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Drug-free heart healers

These days, alternative therapies are becoming more mainstream, with as many as 15 million Americans turning to herbal remedies and millions more turning to acupuncture and other treatments for a host of conditions, including heart disease and stroke. And although there may be benefits, some alternative treatments can cause problems for people with heart problems.

For example, garlic or gingko biloba supplements may increase bleeding risk in people who take blood thinners like warfarin. And St. John’s wort, a common sleep aid, may reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications or other drugs. Interactions can also occur if you don’t tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist which dietary supplements you take, since they won’t be able to take that into consideration when prescribing medication or filling prescriptions.

The alternative therapies here have shown some promise, but you should still tell your healthcare provider before you try any of them.

  • Acupuncture. Very little research has been conducted in the United States on acupuncture treatment for stroke, but numerous studies from China and Japan have shown that stroke patients benefit from these treatments. They recover quicker, manage their personal care better and require less physical therapy.
  • Massage. Research on massage and heart health is limited, but getting a massage helps you relax, calm down and forget about the stress in your life. People with hypertension can benefit from regular massages, according to one small study, since a back rub can trigger the body’s relaxation response, which lowers blood pressure.
  • Tai chi. This Chinese martial art combines movement with meditation and breathing to help you relax. Studies have shown that tai chi is as heart-healthy as getting regular exercise, and it can help reduce stress and blood pressure levels.