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When Your Heart Sings the Blues

Natural methods for healing your heart.

Q: I have a family history of heart disease. My grandfather died of a heartattack, and my father suffered one at 55 after losing his job. He has been extremely depressed since then and still complains about angina, in spite of medication. Are there any natural approaches that can help him?

A: Definitely, but your father's depression needs to be treated along with his heart disease. Depression is an amazingly powerful risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. In fact, a recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that if you've ever been diagnosed with major depression, your risk of a heart attack soars to 4.5 times normal. And even if you're suffering from the less severe dysthymia (sadness that is not as disabling as full-blown depression), your risk is twice as high as normal. Depression even increases the likelihood of strokes to three times the average.

This could be shocking--and depressing!--news for many of us, since heart disease is America's number one killer. And it's certainly powerful evidence that mind and body are interconnected.

The good news is that when properly diagnosed depression is a very treatable disease, both through mainstream and alternative approaches. Anyone with heart disease should be under a doctor's care, preferably one who is open to a blending of traditional and complementary approaches.

As I mentioned in my last column, studies show that the herb ST. JOHN'S WORT is as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression. Also, a diet low in simple sugars helps curb the blood sugar fluctuations that cause mood swings. The herb SIBERIAN GINSENG is a mild mood elevator. The amino acid TYROSINE is a building block for the neurotransmitter norepinephrene, which helps improve mood. In addition, all heart patients can benefit from supplements of fish oil and ginkgo, since both help thin the blood and dampen inflammation (which can occur in the lining of blood vessels). GINKGO also improves circulation throughout the body.

PHOTO (COLOR): Ginseng is a mood elevator, and its plant estrogens protect the heart.