Congestive heart failure is on the rise. The American Heart Association predicts that by 2030, the number of cases will increase to more than 8 million.
Heart failure is serious business. It is a leading cause of hospitalization in older people and a factor in one in every eight deaths in the US. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated.
One of the best ways to slow progression and improve symptoms and quality of life is to combine conventional therapies with effective natural remedies for congestive heart failure. Let’s take a look.
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure results from a tired, weak, energy-starved heart that is losing its ability to pump normally.
There are various types of heart failure, and in its early stages, it presents with few, if any, symptoms. Yet, as the disease progresses, the weakened heart can’t pump with enough force to efficiently move blood around the body.
This results in symptoms such as:
- Edema, or swelling caused by excess fluid in the feet, ankles, and lower legs
- Shortness of breath, particularly when lying down
- Chronic coughing or wheezing due to fluid in the lungs
- Rapid or irregular heart rate as the heart works harder
- Fatigue and reduced endurance
- Abdominal fullness, loss of appetite, or nausea
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
The heart doesn’t simply "fail" on its own. Heart failure is a symptom of an underlying problem—usually one that has been slowly damaging the heart muscle for years. These conditions include:
- Coronary artery disease, often with previous heart attacks
- Damaged heart valves
- Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
- Congenital heart disease
- Smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or exposure to certain toxins, including some chemotherapy medications
- Deficiencies of vital nutrients
Addressing these underlying conditions with appropriate treatments and lifestyle changes is essential, but there are also specific therapies—conventional and alternative—for heart failure.
Drugs, Natural Therapies—or Complementary Medicine?
The medical community has come a long way in the treatment of congestive heart failure.
There is no question that prescription drugs dramatically reduce symptoms in some patients, although, as with all strong medications, their side effects can be almost as problematic as the symptoms they’re treating.
Yet, for others, medications simply don’t provide enough relief. You feel better, but not "in the pink." For these patients, a course of complementary natural therapies often provides relief that was lacking with drug therapy alone—and may even reduce the need for medications.
This is a strategy I recommend if you are dissatisfied with your current treatment plan, as many patients benefit greatly from blending conventional drugs with natural remedies for congestive heart failure. Just remember to always work closely with your cardiologist when making any changes to your routine.
Coenzyme Q10: #1 Supplement for Heart Failure
Can coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) help congestive heart failure? Simply put, yes. In fact, if I could offer just one supplement to patients with congestive heart failure, it would be CoQ10.
CoQ10’s primary role is in the production of energy in the mitochondria of your cells. All cellular functions are dependent upon energy, and your hard-working heart requires lots and lots of energy.
Normally, CoQ10 concentrations in the heart muscle are 10 times greater than in any other organ. In patients with congestive heart failure, however, the heart cells are deficient in CoQ10, and the energy-starved heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
Supplemental CoQ10 can help. Clinical studies show that 87% of patients with congestive heart failure improved after taking CoQ10 for six months. For some, the gentle, natural boost to their energy-starved hearts brought dramatic improvements.
CoQ10 is prescribed by many highly trained board-certified cardiologists in the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan for the treatment of congestive heart failure.
Unfortunately, there are still too many cardiologists who not only fail to recommend CoQ10 but actually scoff at the idea, perhaps because they've been trained to believe that anything natural can't be as effective as a highly engineered drug.
Nonetheless, my own experience with patients and the enormous body of supportive science have convinced me that CoQ10 is the greatest addition to the treatment of congestive heart failure in this century.
Start with 180–200 mg of CoQ10 daily and increase to 360–400 mg over three weeks. Significant relief from symptoms may take a few weeks to months. If you are generally healthy and are interested in preventive health, take 50–100 mg daily.
L-Carnitine for Congestive Heart Failure
L-carnitine is another important nutrient for restoring energy to the failing heart.
This amino acid transports fatty acids into the mitochondria, where they are converted into energy. L-carnitine also shuttles toxic byproducts of metabolism out of the mitochondria—toxins that, if not removed, can build up and cause cellular damage. As an added bonus, L-carnitine helps to recycle CoQ10.
Supplemental L-carnitine has been shown in clinical trials to improve heart function and symptoms of congestive heart failure. It has also been demonstrated to enhance exercise performance in endurance athletes and to improve physical, mental, and cognitive function in older people.
The suggested daily dose is 1,000–2,000 mg, preferably taken in divided doses twice a day on an empty stomach. L-carnitine is especially effective at boosting energy when used in conjunction with CoQ10.
D-Ribose Energizes the Heart
D-ribose is a naturally occurring sugar that is a structural component of ATP.
In congestive heart failure, which is marked by cellular energy deficiency, the reduction in ATP production is directly linked with decreased mitochondrial levels of D-ribose.
Boosting levels of this essential compound with supplemental D-ribose helps to regenerate much-needed ATP and enables the heart muscles to produce energy faster. Studies have shown that daily oral D-ribose significantly improved heart function, exercise endurance, and quality of life in patients with heart failure.
D-ribose is also beneficial for other cardiovascular problems such as angina, arrhythmias, and peripheral vascular disease. It is used by athletes as well to enhance performance and recovery following strenuous exercise.
For congestive heart failure, take 1–3 teaspoons (5–15 g) daily in divided doses with meals.
Hawthorn Berry for Congestive Heart Failure
Hawthorn berry, a traditional remedy for heart problems, is an approved therapy for congestive heart failure in Germany.
By improving the heart's ability to metabolize energy and utilize oxygen, hawthorn has been shown to increase the heart muscle's force of contraction. It also helps to normalize irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, and enhance circulation.
Some studies have shown that patients with mild congestive heart failure get significant relief with hawthorn berry alone. However, it is most often used as an adjunct therapy.
A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled clinical trials evaluated hawthorn as an add-on to various conventional treatments in 855 patients with chronic heart failure. The researchers found that hawthorn significantly improved exercise tolerance as well as symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.
Daily dosages used in the clinical trials were generally in the 900–1,800 mg range. Talk to your doctor before taking hawthorn, especially if you are on any medications for heart failure, as it can enhance the activity of several common drugs.
Vitamins, Minerals & Heart Failure
Don’t overlook the importance of basic vitamins and minerals. Magnesium, for example, is a cofactor in energy production that enhances the metabolic efficiency of heart cells. Vitamin D is crucial for muscle contraction and supports the heart’s pumping ability.
Deficiencies in these and other micronutrients are widespread in patients with heart failure, and they contribute to disease progression.
This was supported by a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which found that having multiple micronutrient deficiencies was a strong predictor of poor outcomes. The researchers concluded, “Nutritional deficiency is an important risk factor for hospitalization and death in patients with heart failure.”
The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in this study were:
- Vitamins C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
A nutrient-rich, heart-healthy diet can provide reasonable amounts of these and other protective nutrients. Given how common micronutrient deficiencies are, however, I also recommend a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
The Bottom Line
If you have congestive heart failure and are unhappy with the response to your current treatment program, take heart. Combining natural remedies with conventional treatments could make the difference you've been hoping for.
The goal is to give your heart, and your quality of life, the best possible chance for improvement. For this to happen, it is best to work with a cardiologist who is willing to try natural remedies for congestive heart failure.
The alternative therapies I've outlined, along with a healthy lifestyle, are safe to use with medication—but not as an immediate substitute for your drugs. Eventually, however, you may be able to cut back on your prescription drugs by as much as 50%. Just remember to always work closely with your cardiologist.