Ayurvedic Heart Theory
The heart is one organ that receives all the stress signals of the body. If a bear or a moose or a butterfly is chasing you, the heart must be the first one to get the message in order to pump the necessary blood to the limbs for a potential fight or flight escape plan. In today’s world, “being chased” may be stressing to meet deadlines or rushing to get the kids to school, as the stress response in the body is comparable.
The stress receptors in the heart have the job of processing the stress signals and then getting rid of the waste products from the signaled stress. Those waste products are drained into the heart’s lymphatic vessels and then pumped into circulation by the heart.
If the lymph system is congested and the stressors keep coming, soon there will not be enough available stress receptors in the heart to cope with the stress. This can cause stress on the heart and compromise heart health.
Over time, the inability of the heart’s lymph vessels to drain the waste products of stress may cause more undue stress and lymph congestion for the heart.
The combination of excess stress, sluggish lymph drainage, and an epidemic of high cholesterol and arterial damage makes for the perfect storm for heart issues, which affect 1 in 5 Americans.
While this may be prevented if more folks exercised and ate a non-processed whole food diet, the vast majority of Americans haven’t yet realized that the American diet of processed foods is bad for the heart.
Arjuna’s Role in Heart Health
In Sanskrit, the word arjuna means “bright,” “silver” or “shining,” expressing the shining quality of the bark of the very tall deciduous arjuna tree that grows up to 90 feet. Once a year the bark naturally molts or peels, making this beneficial bark accessible for harvest.
Arjuna is also the name of the hero of Hinduism’s great battle, the Mahabharata. Arjuna was the protector of his family in this battle. The herb Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) was named for its traditional role of protecting the vitality and heart health of those who take it.
Traditional Use as a Lymph Tonic for the Heart
From the Ayurvedic perspective, Arjuna is a lymph mover for the heart. Under the protective shiny layer of the bark lie reddish, more active constituents. If you have read my articles on lymph, you know that most of the herbs that were traditionally used to dye things red are considered to be natural lymph movers.
Note: Other classic herbal lymph movers are Manjistha and Red Root, but raspberries strawberries, blueberries, beets and cranberries support antioxidant activity and move lymph as well.
As I mentioned, it is understood in Ayurveda that when the lymph around the heart gets congested, the ability of the heart to pump in a healthy fashion weakens. Arjuna was used for millennia to support the heart’s lymph drainage, a strong heart muscle, encourage healthy muscular contractions of the heart, and healthy arterial blood flow.
Energetics of Arjuna
According to Ayurveda:
Taste: Astringent and Bitter
Balances: Kapha (supports clear mucus passages) and Pitta (cooling), but also good for Vata
Western Science Explores Arjuna
Recently, researchers have found that Arjuna supports the muscle tone of the heart, therefore supporting healthy blood flow through the heart. Arjuna also promotes a stronger contraction of the heart muscle, allowing the heart to function efficiently (3).
Like many of the western herbs for the heart, like Hawthorn berry, Arjuna is loaded with a group of heart-healthy polyphenols and flavonoids such as arjunone and arjunolone that classify it as a cardio-tonic (2).
One study showed that, when 500mg of Arjuna bark was taken, it supported healthy cholesterol levels (4). In another study in which smokers were given 500mg of the extract of Arjuna, it supported healthy arterial function, meaning that their arteries were able to expand and contract in a normal fashion – a difficult task for smoker’s arteries (5).
Another study suggests that Arjuna may support relief from occasional chest discomfort. When Arjuna was used alone and in combination with the standard western medication (isosorbide mononitrate), occasional chest discomfort was reduced by 50% when patients were taking 200-500mg of Arjuna daily (6).
Arjuna for Vitality
In some cases, the heart struggles to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. As the heart works harder and harder to do so, it becomes bigger and the heart muscles stretch. Eventually this reaches a point where the heart cannot keep up or contract efficiently.
In the same study, subjects with issues of this nature who were unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort (basically bedridden) took 500mg of Arjuna every eight hours. One hundred percent of the subjects evaluated progressed to a point where they were able to perform normal activities without discomfort. After 4 months, 75% of them were able to perform normal activities with only slight limitations. No subjects in the placebo group saw such improvement (6).
Treat Your Heart like the Ruler that it is!
In many traditions, the heart is considered the ruler of the body. Ironically, it is often a body system that is overlooked until it is in crisis. Treat your heart like the ruler that it is by practicing a heart-healthy lifestyle.
1. J Assoc Physicians India. April 1994.
2. Alternative Med Review.
3. J Ethnopharmacol. Feb 1997
4. J Assoc Physicians India. Feb 2001.
5. J Assoc Physicians. March, April 1994.
6. Int J Cardiol. May 1995