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I was lying on the floor in the back of the theater. My friend was about to read her poem to the expectant audience. All I could think about was how my heart was erratically pounding in my chest. It lasted for hours. I was scared, wondering, “Am I going to die?” As a second-year medical student, I knew I should go and get an EKG and an echocardiogram—but our $5,000 deductible kept me from getting a ride to the ER. Instead I just lay there breathing and hoping it would pass.

If you have heart palpitations, GET THEM ASSESSED. A heart monitor strapped (literally taped) to your chest for one to five days will provide great information for you and your medical team. DO IT.

After this frightening event, I made an appointment to get my heart checked out. I had something called PVCs (premature ventricular contractions), a benign yet disconcerting condition. Many palpitations are not life-threatening, but some can be. I was lucky, and frankly stupid not to have gotten it checked out ASAP.

If you’re like me and have been diagnosed with benign palpitations, you can treat them naturally. Get a proper work-up: it lets you and your physician create an effective plan and takes worry out of the picture, relieving your heart of even more stress.  

What can cause arrhythmia and palpitations?

  • Hyperthyroid
  • High estrogen
  • Infections
  • Low progesterone
  • Anxiety
  • Adverse reaction to foods, supplements, and/or medications
  • Low nutrient status
  • Heart disease
  • Imbalanced blood sugar (highs and/or lows)
  • Perimenopause 
  • POTS- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome

So many different conditions! It is very common for those who are struggling with ME/Fatigue, hormone changes and Long Covid to have a pounding heart, palpitations and irregular heartbeat.

Treating your heart’s rhythms

I love the body. It is miraculous. The heart’s neighbor is the lung. Like every good neighbor, it can lend a hand in a crisis. A conscious breathing practice can not only normalize your blood pressure, but can also help rebalance your heart’s erratic rhythm.

Palpitations and arrhythmias, even the scarier ones like ventricular tachycardia (when your heart races extremely fast, like 200 to 300 beats per minute!), can be helped by using your breath.

By the way, if your heart is racing like this, you need to get help ASAP. It warrants a fast ride in an ambulance to the emergency room—but on your way there, do this: Cough or blow into a straw. The pressure from the lungs can reset the electrical impulse the heart uses to set its rhythm. This technique is great for milder arrhythmias. I use a cough to reset my heart if the palpitations kick in.

For my patients who are diagnosed with more dangerous arrhythmias, I recommend heart-supportive herbs alongside the treatments from their cardiologist, and I tell them to carry a straw in their backpack or purse! 

The miracle of plants

The palpitations that left me lying on the floor at the theater were likely due to an allergic reaction to a preservative I had eaten that night at a sushi bar. My hormones and adrenals had been out of whack, and this also made my heart susceptible to arrhythmias.

After I was diagnosed with PVCs, I began making my own medicine to heal my heart. I had had a series of miscarriages earlier in the year, and both my physical and emotional being had been through a lot. I climbed up Mount Tabor and began to collect the flowers from the hawthorn tree with my six-year-old son. We gently plucked flowers and leaves, thanking the trees for their gift as we gently placed the fronds in our pillowcases. 

We took them home and placed the herbs in clean jars and covered the flowers/leaves and branches with alcohol. (I use the ETOH. I like the flavor of—brandy—but you can use whatever kind you like.) We let them sit for six weeks and then strained the herb out of the alcohol. And there you have it: your own tincture! I took half a teaspoon a day for the next few years until I no longer needed it.

Hawthorn for the heart

Hawthorn, a plant from the Crataegus species, has been used for a long time by herbalists.[1] It helps with ailing hearts, both emotional and physical. It is good for those with heartaches from lost love or blocked hearts from deep rejection.

On the physical level, the flowers have been proven to improve coronary circulation (the blood vessels that go to the heart muscle itself), so it reduces the likelihood of someone having angina (chest pain from the heart muscle not getting enough oxygen). It also helps with the actual energy production of the heart cells themselves by affecting intracellular calcium levels. It can help hypertension indirectly by making the heart more efficient, and of course it helps lower heart rate and is used to regulate a number of different types of arrhythmias.

Hawthorn is such a lovely herb. It is considered very safe, with no known side effects or negative interactions with other herbs or medications. It works best if taken over a long period of time, and it is generally safe to do so. Of course, please consult with your doctor before initiating any treatment, and if you are having irregular heartbeats and/or chest pain, have them assessed by your physician. 

Herbs hold the potential to help with all levels of healing. If you do find yourself in a patch of hawthorn blooms this spring, close your eyes and feel the plant spirit medicine. Tap into your heart and see what you can feel!

Check out some of these other herbs that are also cardiac supportive. [2],[3]  You can use these in cooking and make teas from them (maybe not the garlic!).

  • Linden (Tillia spp.)

  • Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

  • Garlic (Allium spp.)

  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

  • Hibiscus[4] (Malvaceae family)

In good health,

~ Dr Jenny Tufenkian ND

RESOURCES

[1] M. C. Tassell, R. Kingston, D. Gilroy, M. Lehane, and A. Furey, “Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease,” Pharmacognosy Reviews 4, no. 7 (2010): 32–41, https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.65324

[2] Christopher Hobbs, “Herbs for the Heart,” accessed February 15, 2020, https://www.christopherhobbs.com/library/articles-on-herbs-and-health/herbs-for-the-heart/.

[3] X. Xiong, F. Borrelli, A. de Sá Ferreira, T. Ashfaq, and B. Feng, “Herbal medicines for cardiovascular diseases,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (2014): 809741. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/809741

[4] A. L. Hopkins, M. G. Lamm, J. L. Funk, and C. Ritenbaugh, “Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies,” Fitoterapia 85 (March 2013): 84–94,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2013.01.003

READ MORE IN THE HEART SERIES

Got high blood pressure? You are not alone. It is very common and potentially harmful, but treatable. Blood pressure is meant to be variable: it should be able to increase when you need to get blood quickly to your brain and muscles, and it should decrease when you are at rest. 

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