How Chinese Medicine Addresses Heart Health
Heart imbalances can be quite complex according to Chinese medicine. It is important when addressing Heart disorders to address other aggravating factors that may be attributing to the condition. How diseases express themselves gives us a greater ability to target the actual underlying causes so that the condition can be more effectively addressed.
The Functions of the Heart in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
- governs Blood
- controls the blood vessels
- houses the Mind
- opens into the tongue
- manifests in the complexion
- controls sweat
Organ systems are closely connected, and if one Organ System goes out of balance, it will surely have an effect on another Organ System. The following patterns further differentiate the patterns associated with Heart imbalances:
Heart Qi and Blood Deficiency
Deficient Heart energy typically has indications of palpitations, sensation of the heart, sleeping disorders, heart disease, impaired circulation, or congestive heart disease. Herbs included in formulas that address deficient Heart energies will include herbs to build Heart Blood, Heart Qi, and to dispel Heart Blood Stagnation.
Heart - Kidney Imbalances
The Heart belongs to the Fire Element and the Kidney belongs to the Water Element; Fire and Water have an interdependent relationship in Chinese medicine of control, insuring that the Fire does not burn out of control and the Water does overflow.
Kidney Yin is the basis of all Yin of the body, and the Heart depends on abundant Blood, a Yin substance, to maintain a healthy Heart function. Kidney Yang is the basis of all Yang in the body and the Heart depends on Qi, a Yang substance, to keep Blood moving.
Heart and Kidney Yang Deficiency
- angina with pain in the heart radiating to the back
- cold sensation in the body with an aversion to cold
- spontaneous cold sweating
- shortness of breath
- inability to lie flat
- pale complexion
- soreness of the back
- cold knee
- sensation of cold in the back
- cold extremities
- impotence and/or premature ejaculation
- clear urine
- edema of the legs
- infertility in the women
- poor appetite
- loose stools
This pattern requires that the Kidneys are warmed and tonified and that Cold is dispersed.
Hyperactivity of Kidney Yang due to Yin Deficiency
Indications (may have some or all):
- stabbing pain
- dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus
- headache or irritability
- dryness in the eyes
- dryness of the mouth
- feverish sensation in the chest, palms and soles
- night sweats
- insomnia or vivid dreams that disturb the sleep
- dark yellow urine
- hypertension or higher blood pressure
This condition can become serious and require immediate medical attention. Once the emergency critical care has been applied, longer term natural therapies are applied to nourish the Heart and Kidney Yin to subdue the hyperactive Yang.
Heart - Spleen Imbalances
The Spleen Organ System controls the Internal Dampness in the body; thus, Heart
disorders with fluid accumulations could implicate Spleen Qi Deficiency.
Stagnation due to Dampness in the Heart and Channels
If Spleen and Heart Qi Deficiency is allowed to persist, Dampness will invade the Heart and related acupuncture channels possibly causing these additional symptoms:
- chest pain combined with cough
- copious amounts of phlegm
- full feeling in the chest
- poor appetite
- heaviness in the head feeling as if it is wrapped by a piece of cloth
- drowsiness and tiredness
- pain and oppression in the chest
- heaviness of limbs
- shortness of breath
- profuse phlegm
- abdominal distension and fullness
Qi Deficiency of both the Heart and Spleen
- Oppression and dull pain in the chest
- palpitations, shortness of breath on exertion
- sweating, pallor, tiredness, listlessness
- dizziness, amnesia and insomnia
- Poor appetite
- lassitude, lusterless and sallow complexion
- abdominal distension after eating
- tiredness, weakness of the limbs
- loose stools, nausea
- stuffiness of chest and epigastrium and feeling of heaviness
Heart - Liver Imbalances
If Liver Qi Stagnation develops, the Liver heats up and begins to 'harass' the Heart. This can be damaging in many ways, as the heat tends to consume Yin (tissue) and Blood. Symptoms of possible heart disease in Chinese medicine include vertical creases on earlobes, horizontal crease across the bridge of the nose, a deep central crack on the tongue, especially when it extends to the tip of the tongue, a red tipped tongue.
Heart - Liver High Blood Pressure
A Heart-Liver imbalance would also be indicated with high blood pressure. Herbs used to moderate blood pressure do not lower blood pressure for those with normal BP levels; unlike pharmaceutical medications, herbs are able to gently normalize blood pressure. High blood pressure is an indication of Liver Qi Stagnation and Liver Heat Rising in Chinese medicine.
Heart - Liver Insomnia
Liver Qi Stagnation and Heart Blood Stasis
If Liver-Heart imbalances are not properly addressed the condition will worsen and Heart Blood Stasis may develop. Here are the symptoms:
- angina or stabbing pain
- fullness in chest
- shortness of breath
- fixed-stabbing pain in the chest
- aggravation of pain in the night
- chest oppression
- feeling of distension under the ribs
- depression or moodiness
- emotional disturbances
- nausea- vomiting
- epigastric pain
- poor appetite
- irregular and painful periods in women
The strategy in addressing this severe condition is to regulating Qi to soothe the chest oppression while promoting blood circulation to remove blood stasis. In many cases, this condition warrants a trip to the emergency room and self-treatment with natural herbal therapy should only be considered after visiting your doctor.
Other organ systems related to the Heart in TCM
This Organ sorts the pure from the impure with food and information according to TCM. Too much information is part of our modern information age and affects this organ most intensely. Those with Small Intestine imbalances would have trouble sorting out what to keep and what to let go of; they would have a tendency to become hoarders.
This organ function is to protect the Heart. When out of balance, individuals have difficulty in distinguishing emotional input; an example, they would accept criticism easily, but reject love.
Triple Burner-Triple Jiao-San Jiao
A unique concept in Chinese medicine, the triple burner is responsible for regulation and communication throughout the body and between organs themselves. It is responsible for the regulation of temperature and the body’s ability to respond to stresses. Emotionally, people who have damage to the triple burner can turn from emotionally warm to emotionally cold very quickly.
The San Jiao does not occupy a physical space, rather specifies an energetic system. When there is a blockage of the San Jiao, it will be reflected through the Organ Systems that occupy the three spaces.
- Upper Jiao-Heart and Lungs
- Middle Jiao- Stomach, Spleen, pancreas, and Gall Bladder
- Lower Jiao-Large Intestines, Kidney, Bladder, and sexual organs
Herbs that Move Blood and Prevent Heart Blood Stagnation
It is vital that Blood and Qi flow freely to the Heart delivering oxygen and nutrients. Blood moving herbs can help to vitalize a weak heart, but blood moving herbs can also intensify the effects of blood thinners and some heart medications so care must be taken. Blood movers are generally supportive herbs in a formula and are not used in large quantities and can be taken safely along side of pharmaceuticals. Generally they are not used as singles. The intensity of an herbs action is highly dependent on its quantity, so utilizing herbs that can create so much benefit in small doses must be considered.
Lifestyle Practices That Help Prevent Heart Disease
The CDC lists obesity as one of the major contributing factors to heart disease, so maintaining a healthy weight is central to the prevention and treatment of heart disease. In Chinese medicine, the use of herbs that support the Spleen are central in maintaining a healthy weight, as the Spleen Organ System oversees the transportation and transformation of foods.
Choosing real food over processed foods is the first step in maintaining heart health through diet. Eat whole organic foods when available, low fat meats such as fish, turkey, chicken, and plenty of vegetables and legumes along with raw nuts. Foods with silicon such as barley, oats, cucumber, lettuce and celery help to improve calcium absorption that benefits the heart. Avoid processed foods, high fat foods, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, sugar, fried foods, soft drinks, spicy foods, and white flour. Consuming healthy fats is important in maintaining Heart health so do not follow a no-fat diet. Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, fish oils, coconut oil, as well as other vegetable oils that are cold pressed instead of heat extracted. If your foods or oils mention ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils of any kind, do not consume them.
A regular brisk walk, Qi Gong exercises, and yoga can increase blood circulation throughout the body and benefit the heart. If you are experiencing Heart imbalance symptoms, it is important to avoid heavy exercise in the middle of the day. Many people look to their lunch break as an opportunity to exercise, but according to Chinese medicine, the Heart energy peaks between 11 AM and 1PM and stress to the Heart should be avoided during these times.
Avoid stress and learn stress-management techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises for improved heart health. Also, utilizing adaptogenic herbs such as eleuthrococus can change the way you react to stressors and reduce the effects of stress.
Acupressure for Heart Health
Heart Tonification Point Ht 7 (Shenmen or Sprit Gate)
Heart 7 is located in the depression on the radial side of the tendon of muscular flexor carpi ulmaris when the palm is facing upward, on the ulnar end of the transverse crease of the wrist.