Cardiotonics for Heart Health

Dr. Samantha Gray, ND RAc 

In Classical Chinese Medicine there is a saying “the Kidneys nourish the Heart”. This theory can be associated with a lit candle: the Kidney essence or Jing is like the wax of the candle and the Heart energy or Shen is like the flame.  Without the wax there is no fuel for the flame.

In Western parlance, the Kidneys are essentially the adrenal glands that are responsible for managing our adaptation to stress.  To help us adapt to the myriad of internal and external stressors, the adrenal gland produces hormones to assist us in staying balanced.  When our adrenal glands are depleted after prolonged stress exposure our ability to adapt is reduced.

The Heart is the Emperor or Empress of the body according to Chinese Medicine theory. It is likened to the sun, as essential to the sustenance of life. Whether ripening a single bunch of grapes on the vine or bringing the light for a new day, the sun tends to it all. This is true of our heart as well. With the biggest vessels down to the tiniest of capillaries, the heart nourishes and sustains every organ, tissue and cell throughout our bodies at every moment. This nourishment is also needed by the muscle of the heart itself. The smooth muscle of the heart must be given a constant and steady supply of nutrients in the blood to carry out its grand and essential task.

Factors such as diabetes, stress, smoking (the three biggest risk factors for heart disease) as well as nutritional deficiencies compromise the function of the small vessels that nourish the heart. The metabolically active cells of the heart muscle suffer when the small vessels are unable to provide adequate oxygen or nutrients. This leads to lactic acid build-up in cardiac tissue (just like lactic acid build-up in your leg muscles after sprinting).

This is where the adrenal glands come in. The adrenal glands make cardiotonics. These hard-working compounds help to prevent the negative consequences of damaged cells from lactic acid build-up. They also assist in regulating the power and rhythm of cardiac contractions.  However, when the adrenal glands are depleted, their ability to make cardiotonics is reduced.  Consistent with naturopathic theory, we treat the root of the imbalance.  By addressing adrenal depletion due to stress, inflammation or blood sugar imbalance for example will help to restore cardiotonic production which then protects the heart.  This is a good example of how the systems of our body works holistically.

In addition, nature has made cardiotonic herbs that have been used for centuries by herbalists to nourish the heart. A favorite cardiotonic herb prescribed by Naturopathic doctors, Crataegus oxyacantha* or Hawthorn increases oxygenation to the heart muscle.  This herb offers gentle support for the heart that can be used while depleted adrenals are being tended to over time to produce their own cardiotonics.

Avoid adrenal depletion: keep your blood sugar balanced by eating regular, nutrient dense, whole food meals (breakfast is essential), avoid excessive use of caffeine and stimulants, ensure you are getting adequate sleep in a room with no artificial light, the adrenals love rhythm so establish one in your daily life, engage in moderate exercise, express yourself and your creativity, practice mindfulness and share your gratitude.

Nourish your kidneys, your heart will love you for it.

* People on heart medications should always check with their physician before using herbal remedies.