Naturopathic Medicine And Heart Disease: Prevention, Diagnosing, And Treatment
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is still the number one cause of death worldwide. Data collected in a 2015 study showed that worldwide there are 17.3 million deaths each year from heart disease. The number of heart-related deaths is projected to rise to over 23.6 million by 2030. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and other health experts agree that heart disease is mostly preventable with the appropriated diagnosing and treatment.
The naturopathic approach to healing involves the whole person which means finding the underlying causes of diseases. This same diagnosing approach is applied to the prevention and treatment of heart disease. They also stress the importance of patient empowerment to make long-lasting lifestyle changes. On the website, the AANP says that a study on lifestyle changes for patients with arterial plaque found that after one-year of implementing lifestyle changes 80 percent of participants’ plaque was reduced without surgery or “lipid-lowering agent.”[i]
Naturopathic doctors delve into several areas to assess a patient’s risk for heart disease or if there are existing abnormalities. They look at genetic makeup, environmental issues, behavior, and lifestyle factors.
Diagnosing with Naturopathic Doctor
The initial visit with the doctor will include a thorough exam and will also include your medical history, asking about medicines you are taking, and if there’s any family history of heart disease along with other pertinent information. During the appointment there is one area the doctor will especially focus on:
Inflammation Assessment – Before any diagnosis of potential heart disease factors or existing heart disease, the naturopathic doctors will spend from one to two hours to get to know you medically, and that includes an inflammation assessment.
Chronic inflammation can be a forewarning to the possibility of heart disease. Inflammation is often associated with an acute injury, such as muscle strain, or an infection. However, inflammation can also be chronic and low-grade. Chronic inflammation can have its roots in poor diet, excessive weight, sedentary lifestyle, elevated levels of glucose, autoimmune disease, allergies, stress, and other health conditions.
While chronic inflammation’s direct link to heart disease has not been proven, low levels of inflammation have been linked to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a precursor to heart disease.
During the examination for inflammation, the doctor will assess the condition of your skin, joints, and the function of systems such as digestive and respiration. Since sleep patterns, energy levels, stress, and emotional health also raise the chance of developing heart disease, the doctor will ask about them. In other words, she will do a thorough exam that also includes observation and asking relevant questions.
Laboratory tests may also be a part of the inflammation evaluation. In conjunction with the initial assessment, lab results will give the doctor the necessary information to come up with a diagnosis or to determine if any underlying causes exist that could lead to heart disease. Labs may include tests that check glucose levels, cholesterol levels, inflammatory markers, autoimmune markers, and others.
Depending on the diagnosis, the naturopathic doctor has many treatment options available. There are, however, four key treatments they will consider:
- Medications – If there is any condition that indicates heart disease, etc. the naturopathic doctor may prescribe medicines if their state license permits it. However, since naturopathic doctors adhere to the principles of Therapeutic Order (guidelines that prioritize therapies that help the body to heal itself over invasive ones), conventional medicines are only used until the body can repair itself and maintain a healthy state.
In states where doctors are not permitted to write prescriptions, the naturopathic doctor will refer the patient to a conventional doctor that she will work with to return the patient to good health.
- Gastrointestinal Repair – The doctor may suggest repairing the digestive tract (GI) if necessary because chronic inflammation can be caused by an imbalance in the body’s microflora. Microflora are gut microorganisms that help with digestion and create a barrier between the gastrointestinal tract and the bloodstream. Naturopathic doctors are trained in reestablishing the flora, restoring the digestive tracts PH levels and correcting conditions such as leaky gut and constipation that can contribute to inflammation.
- Restore Endothelial Function – The blood vessels’ inner lining (endothelium) releases substances that control several functions within the vessels, among them are vascular relaxation and contraction. Endothelial dysfunction is a significant predictor of stroke and heart attacks. Endothelial dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis and the loss of elasticity in arterial walls. Endothelial dysfunction is caused by smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor diet, obesity, and physical inactivity. The doctor will help devise a plan that encourages lifestyle changes, incorporates botanical medicines, and may also include nutrient supplementation to restore endothelial function.
- Promote Physical Activity – Physical activity is crucial to preventing and healing from health disease through a direct connection and indirect connections. Indirectly, exercise improves conditions that may lead to heart disease, such as inflammation, diabetes, and others. Naturopathic doctors see it as their calling to encourage patients to participate in physical activity. Because naturopathic doctors get to know their patients very well, they can often guide them to types of exercises that fit their desires and needs, so the patient continues to maintain an exercise program.
As you can see, naturopathic doctors invest a quite amount of time and investigation to determine if there are any areas of concern that may lead to heart disease or if heart disease already exists. They also take a multi-prong approach that focuses on the whole body and not just the disease to prevent or help the body to heal from any heart disease or conditions that may lead to it.
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. How do naturopathic doctors prevent and treat heart disease? Retrieved from https://www.naturopathic.org/natfaqs#FAQ15.
American Heart Association. American Heart Association statistical report tracks global figures for the first time. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/american-heart-association-statistical-report-tracks-global-figures-for-first-time
Griffin Jan, M.D and Michos, Erin, M.D., M.H.S. Inflammation and Heart Disease: What Is C-Reactive Protein? Who Might Benefit from Testing? Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-04-06/inflammation-and-heart-disease-what-is-c-reactive-protein-who-might-benefit-from-testing