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Jun 15, 2017

Lack of Evidence on Herbal Remedies and Heart Disease

Experts urge more research on the risks and benefits of Chinese herbal remedies for heart health.

More research is needed to confirm whether Chinese herbal medicine is safe and effective for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, based on a recent review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Through traditional Chinese medicine, herbal remedies have been used for more than 2,000 years to promote health and treat disease. It’s currently estimated that 1 in 5 people will take an herbal or dietary supplement in their lifetime. As heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death worldwide, these supplements are often taken to promote heart health. However, due to a lack of evidence, many experts remain skeptical about the safety and efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine.

To learn more, researchers reviewed the most reliable, recent studies on herbal medicine and heart disease. A total of 59 clinical trials from 2006 and 2016 were included in the analysis, 21 of which were published in English and 35 of which were published in Chinese. These studies tested the effects of herbal supplements on a number of factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart failure and risk for heart disease and stroke.

Overall, researchers found that studies confirm the potential benefits of herbal supplements on heart health. For example, studies provide evidence that traditional Chinese medicines containing herbs like ginkgo biloba help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and control blood sugar levels. Studies also suggest that side effects of herbal medicine are rare and relatively mild.

Based on findings, authors conclude that Chinese herbal medicine may complement Western medicine when it comes to the prevention and treatment of heart disease. However, there’s still a lack of evidence to confirm the risks and benefits of herbal medicine, and researchers note that large clinical trials are needed to assess their long-term impact on heart health. Until we have additional evidence, experts encourage patients to discuss the use of herbal supplements with their doctor, especially when taken in combination with other prescribed medications.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • Healthy lifestyle choices are key to reducing risk for heart disease. By eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, you can help significantly reduce heart disease risk. Knowing your numbers—body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar—and family history is also important so that you can address any risk factors you may have for heart disease.
  • At what age should I worry about heart disease?
  • Risk factors that lead to heart disease often develop slowly over time and can take decades to develop. That’s why it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthystaying active and maintaining a healthy weight, at all stages in life. As an adult, it’s especially important to work closely with your doctor to monitor key risk factors and address any risk factors to reduce risk for heart disease.

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