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Traditional Indian Medicine Reverses Atherosclerosis
For the first time, traditional healing techniques long used in India have been found to reverse atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In a well-designed study reported in the April, 2002, American Journal of Cardiology, a comprehensive, prevention-oriented non-Western approach to heart disease in the elderly showed promising results.

The small pilot study compared heart patients using regimens of Maharishi Vedic Medicine (MVM), a form of 4,000-year-old Ayurvedic medicine, and patients following standard pharmaceutical and lifestyle recommendations of modern Western-style medicine to a control group. After a year, researchers found that participants in the MVM program were nearly four times more likely to reverse atherosclerosis as those in the other two groups combined.

Although all people develop some degree of atherosclerosis, in some it leads to serious complications. Artery walls may thicken with fatty deposits, called plaque, and narrow to block blood flow. The blockages can trigger a heart attack, or encourage the formation of clots that, when dislodged, can travel to the brain and cause stroke.

The MVM approach to heart disease included the use of transcendental meditation (TM), herbal supplements, a low-fat, high-fiber diet, yoga, and regular walking. Comparison groups included one receiving anti-aging focused modern medicine (with dietary advice, aerobic exercise and walking, and vitamin supplements), and a control group, which received normal nonspecialized care from their regular health providers. Fifty-seven healthy elderly individuals selected from a larger trial of MVM were randomly assigned to the three groups, and 46 completed the study. Final outcomes were determined by ultrasound measurements of the thickness of the participantsm carotid artery walls.

"The bottom line is that this natural approach to reversing atherosclerosis appears in this pilot study to be even more effective than drug-based or surgical approaches," says Kenneth Walton, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Center of Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa, and one of the study's lead authors.

Harnessing the Body's Healing Powers

Previous research has found that TM alone reduced atherosclerosis in African-Americans with high blood pressure. And the current study indicates that using the multiple components of MVM to combat atherosclerosis is even more effective.

"This study shows that the body has its own inner intelligence for healing, and its own know-how for repairing cardiovascular disease. And one can enliven this intelligence by using natural modalities such as these," says Robert H. Schneider, M.D., Director of the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, and also a lead author of the study.

Subjects in the MVM group trained in transcendental meditation and practiced the technique for 20 minutes twice a day. They took an antioxidant-rich herbal food supplement and learned in monthly follow-up meetings how to follow a Vedic medicine diet--seasonally based, generally low in fat, and high in fruits and vegetables. They were also taught two stress-reducing yoga exercises to do, each for 10 minutes every day, and they also walked for 30 minutes daily.

In the modern medicine group, participants were taught standard anti-aging practices, including aerobic walking three times weekly, and stretching and isotonic exercises twice a week. This group also met monthly to discuss dietary recommendations and the health consequences of negative habits such as alcohol abuse and smoking. Twice a day the participants took a multivitamin supplement that slightly exceeded the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for vitamins and minerals.

As did both the other groups, members of the control group obtained their usual health care from their regular health-care providers, but they received no other interventions.

Biggest Benefits for the Most At-Risk

The success of MVM in reversing atherosclerosis was even more marked for some study participants. As the data were analyzed, the researchers found a subgroup of subjects who were at higher risk for heart disease than the group as a whole. These participants had at least one of the following risk factors in addition to age: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

The reversal of atherosclerosis in these subjects was considerably more significant--carotid artery measurements improved in 80% of the MVM group as a whole, but they improved in 100% of this high-risk subgroup.

Because this was a pilot study, the significance of the results is limited by the small number of participants. However, since no subjects in the MVM group stopped their treatment before the study's end, it may be appropriate to give these conclusions more weight, researchers contend.

Urging a larger trial, the authors conclude that the multiple therapies of MVM can reverse atherosclerosis, and hence reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. In particular, their findings suggest these average decreases in risk: 8% in the larger group of MVM subjects, and a substantial 33% in the high-risk subgroup, in comparison to the modern and control groups combined.

From the ancient roots of Vedic medicine, science has found proof of the benefits of a multifaceted approach to wellness. When it comes to reversing atherosclerosis, this traditional medicine may be among the best. "These results were achieved at a very small fraction of the cost of surgery or drug-based treatments, and in only one year--which is quite a short time," Dr. Walton explains. "These people averaged 75 years of age, and that's a suggestion that it's never too late."


Date Published: 06/27/2002
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