It's well documented that lifestyle changes like stress reduction or eating a healthy diet can increase your outlook for a healthy heart. But might you receive the same benefits when those changes are grounded in Vedic, or ancient Indian, medicine?
Researchers set out to answer this question using a unique treatment plan for atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. According to their study—published in the American Journal of Cardiology—a team of researchers from St. Joseph's Hospital in Chicago and the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, selected 57 healthy seniors with an average age of 74. They tested each patient for any early signs of heart disease by measuring the thickness of the carotid artery wall in the neck—an indicator that correlates with atherosclerosis in the brain and heart.
The team then randomly assigned each individual to one of three treatments. The first group underwent an exercise, dietary, stress-reduction (yoga and Transcendental Meditation, or TM), and antioxidant-herb program that is based upon Maharishi Vedic Medicine (MVM). The second group got multivitamins, as well as the standard recommendations of a healthy diet and exercise routine. The third group received only regular medical care.
After one year, the researchers measured the participants' carotid arteries again and the findings were dramatic. Those in the MVM group experienced more than a 10 percent reduction in their artery thickness, whereas the other two groups averaged a 5 percent decrease. And for a subgroup of high-risk individuals in the MVM group, the measurements revealed an even more substantial improvement—19.4 percent regression in the arterial plaque.
"The opening of these arteries translates to a 33 percent reduction of heart disease and stroke over the long term," says Robert Schneider, M.D., the director of the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention and coauthor of the study.
Those looking to prevent heart disease might not be able to exactly replicate the program; however, the study's results do offer a few key insights. For one, the herbal formula, Maharishi Amrit Kalash, contained more than 30 powerful antioxidant herbs. "We believe Maharishi Amrit Kalash had a major contribution to the reduction of atherosclerosis," says Schneider.
Yoga, too, emerged as a source of prevention, as well as TM, an extensively researched technique with a solid track record for treating everything from hypertension to criminal activity. "Anyone can take Maharishi Amrit Kalash, learn TM, or practice yoga," explains Schneider, who has another study in the works that will assess the effects of TM on African American women, a high-risk group for heart disease. "We are still fine-tuning this diet for public use, but in the meantime, the general Vedic principles—light on animal protein and fat, heavy on fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains—are a good starting point."