Holistic heart healing
Two medical centers, one known for excelling in traditional Western medicine and another known for alternative medical therapy research, have joined together to study heart attack patients.
Researchers at University Hospitals and Maharishi University in Fairfield are conducting a study to test the potential of holistic therapy for reducing the risk of future heart attacks.
Dr. Brian Olshansky, UI professor of internal medicine and physician with UI Heart Care, is leading the UI end of the study.
“I’ve always been interested in alternative methods in treating my cardiac patients,” said Olshansky, who also is on the National Institutes of Health study section to evaluate grants related to complementary and alternative medicine.
“I’ve often prescribed alternative approaches for my patients outside of the studies to help them deal with their problems associated with cardiac diseases. I refer them to energy healers and herbalists in town.”
He said that combined with traditional Western medicine, alternative therapies can be useful in alleviating patients’ health problems.
Dr. Robert Schneider, dean of the College of Maharishi Medicine, is heading the Fairfield side. Their study has received $8 million from the National Institutes of Health to examine heart attack patients. The first results of their study are expected this fall.
“Our mission is to find ways to treat people who have already had bypass surgery,” Schneider said. “We’re trying to prevent them from having another.”
He said 250,000 people die each year during cardiac surgery or from drug interactions. Bypass surgery costs $30,000. Schneider said he hopes a more holistic approach to treating cardiac patients will reduce deaths and medical bills.
They are working with about 15 volunteers who have coronary disease and have completed outpatient cardiac rehabilitation at University Hospitals. They receive treatment with several Maharishi Ayurveda methods, a combination of transcendental meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, herbal preparations and a mostly vegetarian diet.
“It’s pretty surprising to see farmers who have lived on a meat-and-potatoes diet begin to eat mostly vegetarian foods,” Olshansky said. “It’s not what you would expect. This study has taught us that patients will change their lifestyles for their health.”
Researchers examine participants to determine possible effects of the regimen. They check blood pressure, cholesterol level, weight and mood. Ultrasound scans of the carotid artery in the neck are also conducted.
“Transcendental meditation has shown to be effective at reducing high blood pressure,” Schneider said. “We were the first to show that the mind-body approach could open arteries.”
Cortisone levels rise during times of stress. Continued high levels lead to heart disease and high blood pressure, Schneider said.
“Even low-grade stress, like driving in heavy traffic, can damage neuroendocrine function to the point of killing neurons in the brain,” he said. “We want to reduce the bad effects of stress so the body can meet the challenges of the day.”
Olshansky said that if the study’s results are positive, he will consider conducting a larger clinical trial on cardiac recovery.