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American Heart Month Is Here

February isn't just for sweethearts, anymore! As of last year, February is officially American Heart Month - sponsored by the American Heart Association. By now, we're all familiar with the grim statistics: in 2011, one of three global deaths was related to cardiovascular disease - making CV disease the leading global cause of death. In 2010, stroke was the second global cause of death. Presently here in the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death - accounting for one of every seven deaths.

On a whole, we've all been affected - if not personally, then almost everyone knows someone managing stroke, CV or heart disease. But with increased awareness and preventative measures, we also have a few excellent statistics: we now know that 80% of heart disease and stroke events are preventable; from 2001 to 2011 the death rate due to heart disease has fallen by 39%; and in the last ten years, death rate from stroke has decreased by 35%.

Even with the good news, heart disease is still alarmingly prevalent. In response, the American Heart Association has presented a set of goals toward a healthier future. The AHA aims to "improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent, by the year 2020." The AHA has also issued a set of guidelines, emphasizing the importance of lifestyle habits in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. They're titled "Life's Simple 7," and are digestible enough: "not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar."

Among modern Western medical professions, the idea of prescribing "preventative care" (and not prescriptions) is gaining traction - but this practice is old news to Eastern medical traditions. Healing modalities rooted in Oriental medicine - acupuncture, Chinese herbal prescriptions, shiatsu, Qi Gong, and T'ai Chi (to name a few) - all approach the patient's health from a holistic perspective. In acupuncture, while we routinely monitor physical activity and diet as pillars of wellness, other factors - like stress or emotional balance - are given equal importance when assessing the overall health of the individual. Per TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), biological activity is described as a collective set of energetic relationships comprising a very intimately functioning whole. If you're suffering from heartbreak, it is not uncommon for your acupuncturist to keep an eye on other complaints like digestive issues, lowered immune, insomnia, or even palpitations or arrhythmias. This is because acupuncture works by promoting your body's natural homeostasis - by correcting subtle (or not-so-subtle) imbalances in all of your bodily functions. 

While the integration of alternative medicine with Western medicine is challenged by limitations in research and rhetoric, we have increasing evidence for the benefits of acupuncture in the preventative (and continued) care of cardiac patients. Here is just one example, in honor of American Heart Month: a 2001 study from the UCLA Department of Medicine sought to understand the effect of acupuncture on mental stress. Researchers compared changes in blood pressure and heart rates (both governed by the sympathetic, i.e. fight-or-flight, nervous system) of stressed participants, next to stressed participants who were receiving acupuncture. The authors of the study report, in summary: "real acupuncture and needling non-acupoints decrease the blood pressure response to mental stress, whereas placebo no-needle acupuncture does not." 

This is just one example. But it shows that by reducing mental stress with acupuncture, we're able to moderate blood pressure. By tending matters of the heart and mind, we're able to promote overall wellness! Preventative care is a major priority in the scope of Oriental medicine. When included in routine care and management of cardiovascular disease, heart disease or stroke, acupuncture is a minimally invasive, safe, gentle and effective procedure. So along with "Life's Simple 7" - including acupuncture in your regular self-care may be worth exploring! To your health and heart!
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References: 

AHA/ASA Newsroom, (http://newsroom.heart.org/events/happy-heart-month-2830575), last accessed January, 2016.
American Heart Association, (https://www.heart.org), last accessed January, 2016.
Middlekauff, H., Jun Liang Yu, & Kakit Hui. Acupuncture Effects on Reflex Responses to Mental Stress in Humans. Am J Physiol Regulatory Integrative Comp Physiol 280: R1462-R1468, 2001. (http://cewm.med.ucla.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2001MiddlekauffHAcupunctureReflexResponsesMentalStress.pdf). Last accessed January, 2016.
Wang, L., Ning Zhang, Huaping Pan, Zun Wang & Zhenyu Cao. A Combination of Electro-Acupuncture and Aerobic Exercise Improves Cardiovascular Function in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease. J Clin Exp Cardiolog 6:9, 2015. (http://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/a-combination-of-electroacupuncture-and-aerobic-exercise-improves-cardiovascular-function-in-patients-with-coronary-heart-disease-2155-9880-1000402.pdf). Last accessed January, 2016. 

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