Every day, the term “Congestive Heart Failure” is googled an average 135,000 times. That’s just over a whopping 4 million searches a month! Considering that according to the CDC, 5.7 million people have congestive heart failure in the U.S, these search volumes are not surprising.
Congestive Heart Failure is a condition in which your heart is unable to send sufficient fresh blood for the body’s needs.
To understand what Congestive Heart Failure really is, let’s understand how the heart handles blood circulation:
- Step 1. The heart has four chambers, which pump and pause in rhythm with each other. Let’s start from the right top chamber, called the right atrium. Impure blood, with carbon dioxide, arrives here from all over rest of the body.
- Step 2.When this chamber is full, a valve opens, to allow blood to flow down into chamber below it, the right ventricle. The right ventricle then pumps this blood sideways to the lungs, which take out the CO2 and fill the blood with fresh O2, that we have just breathed in.
- Step 3. This oxygen-rich blood is now sent from the lungs to the left atrium. When this chamber is full, it empties blood into the left ventricle right below it.
- Step 4. The left ventricle is the last chamber of the heart, from which pure, oxygen-rich blood is sent to the whole body.
‘Congestive Heart Failure’ or simply ‘Heart Failure’ happens most often due to defects in step 4 or in step 2. Remember two important things about this statement: (i) We are talking about the majority of heart failures; there are always other causes in some cases. We have also simplified the whole explanation a lot, so you can get the basic idea right. (ii) The process we are describing happens over months and years before a heart actually fails.
The typical sequence of steps that could eventually lead to heart failure are:
- When the left ventricle is unable to push O2-rich blood out to the rest of the body, this blood is pushed back to lungs first. The lungs are drenched in more blood than they can handle. Breathing begins to become laboured.
- Blood also gets pushed back from the lungs to the right ventricle. If that is also failing, due to a faulty valve, the blood goes back to veins.
- When the blood goes back in the veins, fluid from the blood starts to leak from the vein into the tissues, causing swelling. You can see this swelling in the legs, especially near the ankles.
- Swelling can also happen in the lungs, abdomen & liver, as blood congests and backs up. When the fluid is retained in the body, weight increases.
- With time, as the swelling and pressure increases, the left or the right ventricle, or in some cases, both sides of the heart tire from the effort. The walls of the chambers can become too thick or too thin and eventually, collapse. You have Congestive Heart Failure or CHF.
- Congestive Heart Failure: Symptoms
- Stages of Congestive Heart Failure
- Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure
- Congestive Heart Failure : Prognosis and Life Expectancy
- Congestive Heart Failure: Forgotten Ways to Improve Prognosis and Life Expectancy
- 5 Simple Steps To Improve Life Expectancy With Congestive Heart Failure
- Congestive Heart Failure: Alternative Treatment Options
- Congestive Heart Failure and EECP: The Natural Bypass?
- Congestive Heart Failure: Our Parting Thoughts
Congestive Heart Failure: Symptoms
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure are divided by doctors based on which side of the heart is affected – the right or the left. However, since both sides of the heart eventually affect the functioning of the other side, it is simpler to look at all the symptoms that could occur with Congestive Heart Failure:
- Respiratory: shortness of breath upon lying down or physical activity or even at rest, rapid, shallow breathing, cough that is persistent, excess phlegm formation
- Heart: heaviness of heart, fast heart rate, missing beats or arrhythmias
- Swelling: In the legs – especially the ankles, in the chest, around the lungs, in the abdomen, around the liver and spleen
- Overall: Tiredness, fatigue, muscle pain, loss of appetite, feeling restless, weight gain
- Brain: Brain fog, confusion, loss of memory
- Urinary: Excess urination, especially at night
- Pains: Chest, abdomen and legs, with the swelling that puts pressure on these areas.
Stages of Congestive Heart Failure
As mentioned earlier, Congestive Heart Failure takes many months if not years to develop. To help stage patients and their treatments correctly, doctors use a four-stage classification of Congestive Heart Failure. Each stage is accompanied by certain mechanisms happening inside the body, but what really matters to us is what we can see outside, as symptoms and therefore, how seriously we need to take them.
The stages of Congestive Heart Failure based on this approach are:
- Stage 1: Normal physical activity like walking or taking a flight of stairs does not lead to shortness of breath, fatigue, or palpitations. However, when you do any moderate exercise, like a brisk walk or a jog or taking four flights of stairs, you feel breathless or tired.
- Stage 2: You feel comfortable when you are resting. But as soon as you take a flight of stairs or walk a block, you may feel breathless or feel your heart race or feel tired.
- Stage 3: You feel okay till you’re at rest. But even the simple task of getting up from the sofa and walking over to the kitchen causes makes you want to rest or pant or feel palpitations.
- Stage 4: You feel your heart and breath faster even at rest, tire even though you are sitting and feel anxiety and palpitations almost all the time.
Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure
Like all prescription drugs, medicines used for treatment of CHF also come with their own side effects. What’s more, almost all classes of medications have been studied for the nutrient depletion that they cause, by Dr.Ross Pelton, R.Ph, CCN and his colleagues and documented in their seminal work, Drug Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook. The nutrient-depletion information below is taken from this excellent resource.
Conventional treatment of Congestive Heart Failure involves use of prescription medications like:
- Beta Blockers (carvedilol, metoprolol): drugs that lower heart rate, hypertension by blocking signals from ‘sympathetic’ or the ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous system. Side effects include dizziness and feeling tired. Nutrient Depletion: They also deplete the vital nutrient COQ10 from the body, which could cause everything from muscle pains, low energy, high blood pressure and even congestive heart failure!
- Centrally Acting Anti-hypertensives (Hygroton, Thalitone, Catapres, Duraclon, Aldomet). Side effects: Low energy, depression, fatigue. Nutrient Depletion: Zinc, CoQ10 loss can lead to loss of taste and smell, slow wound healing, high blood pressure and even congestive heart failure.
- Digoxin (lanoxin) Lowers heart rate, but could also cause side effects like nausea, poor appetite and digestive problems. Nutrient Depletion: Magnesium is depleted and this could lead to asthma, muscle cramps, heart problems, PMS, osteoporosis,Absorption of the Vitamin B family is also hampered by this drug and could lead to depression, memory loss, irritability, edema, and muscle weakness
- ACE Inhibitors (lisinopril, captopril) reduce a certain chemical called Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE), that over time, damages the heart. These drugs also help blood vessels open up and and lower blood pressure. Side effects include feeling dizzy, a dry cough and increased levels of potassium in the body. Kidney damage also happens with long term use. Nutrient Depletion: Lead to loss of zinc from the body. Depletion of this critical mineral could lead to loss of sense of smell and taste, lower immunity and slow wound healing.
- Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (losartan): Similar to ACE inhibitors, without the nasty side effect of cough. Side effects including adverse effects on kidney function, loss of potassium and dizziness.
- Aldosterone Antagonist (spironolactone, eplerenone): Another class of drugs that prevent aldosterone hormones, which over a period of time, damage the heart. Side effects include swelling, excess potassium levels and tenderness in breasts.
- Hydralazine and Nitrates (Apresoline, Nitrobid, Imdur, Isordil) They work as vasodilators, helping blood vessels relax and open up. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, swelling in hands, arms, feet, or legs. Nutrient Depletion Vitamin B6 is depleted by this class of drugs, which could cause anemia, increased, tiredness, weakness and further cardiac issues. CoQ10 is also reduced in the body, which could lead to fatigue, muscle cramps and high blood pressure.
- Diuretics: furosemide (Lasix), bumetanide (Bumex), torsemide (Demadex), metolazone (Zaroxolyn); remove excess water from the body. Side effects include increased urination, dehydration, ringing or buzzing in the ears, itching and skin issues including rashes and hives, possibility of metabolic syndrome and diabetes and gout (painful inflammation of the joints). Nutrient Depletion: Calcium loss could lead to blood pressure irregularities, osteoporosis, Magnesium loss to asthma, cardiovascular problems, cramps, Potassium loss to edema, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, Zinc loss could lead to loss of taste and Vitamin B1 and B6 lost could lead to depression, edema, irritability, memory loss, muscle weakness increased cardiovascular disease risk and sleep disturbances
Congestive Heart Failure : Prognosis and Life Expectancy
The prognosis for Congestive Heart Failure varies directly with how well you are able to reduce the factors that increase its risk.
The risk factors for Congestive Heart Failure as listed by the CDC are:
- Coronary Artery Disease
- High Blood Pressure
Each of these above risk factors has both a genetic and a lifestyle component. So anyone with parents or blood relatives who have these diseases should take extra care of lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, leading a sedentary lifestyle, not managing stress well, etc.
Anyone who is diagnosed with CHF would do well to read the paragraph titled ‘Congestive Heart Failure: Stages’ above, to understand the prognosis if the condition is left unchecked. The progress of the disease is grim indeed.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that “about half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis.”
Congestive Heart Failure: Forgotten Ways to Improve Prognosis and Life Expectancy
What can you do? The very first thing is to improve the obvious lifestyle factors – quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, get some exercise, eat healthier, etc. But that, you already know.
Could there be something fundamentally wrong with the way heart disease and its ultimate chronic result, Congestive Heart Failure is currently seen and treated?
According to an increasing band of M.D.s who are leading the charge to help people address the root cause, the answer is a resounding Yes!
5 Simple Steps To Improve Life Expectancy With Congestive Heart Failure
Dr.Thomas Cowan , Cardiologist and author of the book ‘Human Heart, Cosmic Heart’, outlines a simple plan for “caring about the heart. We endorse this plan wholeheartedly.
Eat good food!
This three-word advice includes getting the most organic, pesticide- free, fresh, seasonal food you can, avoiding all processed foods, reducing carbohydrates to the minimum plant carbs needed and including heart-protective good fats in your diet. You heard that right – INCLUDING healthy fats like grass-fed butter for the health of your heart.
The healthy heart uses good fats as it’s fuel. After years of being telling us that butter was terrible for our heart, last year, the U.S. Government finally admitted last year that natural saturated fats were not so bad , after all. Apparently, they had been ‘misled’ by a strong processed food lobby that wanted to distract attention from themselves – and the fact that the sugars their foods were full of were the real reason our arteries were suffering so badly.
Dr.Cowan recommends Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions ” as a book that every home should have a copy of. We could not agree more. There’s a reason people around the world traditionally ate with the seasons, ate healthy fats, ate everything in moderation and went easy on sugars. It’s why people lived long, healthy, peaceful lives.
Dr.Weston Price, M.D ., in his phenomenal work “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” documented the eating habits, health and longevity of indigenous people around the world. He found that when such societies were not yet exposed to the carb and sugar-laden processed foods from the West, they ate naturally available fresh foods, drank pure water and lived to be fit and healthy to a ripe old age.
Eating real food, including heart-healthy fats, is the first and most important step you can take to help the progression of your heart to Congestive Heart Failure. The simplest diet plan for diabetics that Clinical Nutritionist Karena Tonkin has put together for us is a great starting point for you to understand the right diet principles and tailor a plan for your family.
Drink the purest, mineral-rich, structured water you can find
For our blood to be nourishing and pure, the water we drink needs to be free of impurities and chemicals like fluoride. Several Reverse Osmosis filters that do this job unfortunately also remove vital minerals from the water, so we need to re-mineralize our water. Structuring the water sounds exotic, but simply involves making sure the water passes through a filter that helps form a ‘vortex’ or spiral that literally makes the water ‘come back to life’, as if it were from a natural spring.
Dr. Gerald Pollack , over at University of Washington has discovered that when blood is ‘structured’ in this way, it packs all the essential nutrition safely and helps the blood flow efficiently. You can see his amazing explanation of why water is so critical to human life and heart health here . If you live in the U.S., you can find more information on how to transform your ordinary tap water into a living, heart-health supporting liquid here .
Get as much sun exposure as you can (without burning yourself)
We all know now that this shores up your Vitamin D , which is now hailed by research study after research study as being cardio-protective (read heart-friendly). But that’s not all. Exposure to the sun literally helps the blood flow! Dr. Cowan, following the research of Dr. Pollock and the other pioneers before him, notes that sunlight has the amazing ability to “structure” water (or, in this case, our blood). Could this be why people suffering from chronic illness, including heart disease, were asking to “get some sun” by doctors in the days gone by? In any case, once you take the precautions to not get sun-burnt, how could you possibly go wrong in getting sun exposure?
Walk barefoot on the earth (especially at the seashore, near lakes, parks, wooded areas)
Yet again, this seems like advice coming from hippie mumbo-jumbo. Only, the hard science is now saying that ‘earthing’ or simply having bare skin contact with the earth, is one of the most potent anti-oxidants there is. The electromagnetic field of our planet has the ability to donate ‘free ions’ to us, helping to reduce the viscosity of our blood and counter damage to arteries. Vigorous barefoot walking helps improve blood circulation everywhere in the body.
Spread the love
Of all the body’s organs, the heart is the most we associate with ourselves, with our personality, with “who we really are”. Is it then surprising that the things that nurture our positive feelings also nurture our physical heart? A wise doctor of Chinese Medicine, Dr.John Nieters , who practices acupuncture with his wife Jennifer Nieters in the Bay Area of San Francisco, once mentioned how his teacher advised him to give and receive a “mandatory eight hugs a day” to stay in good health.
Once again, as material science catches up to traditional human wisdom, we are learning that the mere act of holding hands with a loved one leads to the exchange of negative ions that help to ‘structure’ our blood and help it flow better. Research studies have shown repeatedly that when recovering patients receive human touch and love, they regain health much faster. We’ve always know this helps people “feel better”. Now the science is showing that there are physical mechanisms by which “love” helps us heal faster.
Congestive Heart Failure: Alternative Treatment Options
Having outlined the simplest plan to nurture your heart back to health, let’s look at what we can do in terms of medicine. Please work with your medical practitioner to incorporate one or more of these more natural options into your regimen.
- Ouabain (pronounced as ooh-aah-bane), also called “insulin for the heart” is an extract from an African vine. It has the ability to convert lactic acid, a waste product that the heart finds hard to handle when diseased, back into something called pyruvate, a perfect heart fuel. Unfortunately, its not freely available in the U.S., and in any case, your best bet is to work with a practitioner who can help you fine tune the dose most suitable for you. You can find out more about how to source this from Dr.Cowan’s website .
- CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 has been doing the rounds of popular media during the past 3-4 years. This amazing compound, which is produced naturally in the human body, is critical for energy production at the cellular level. When your body runs low of CoQ10, all the muscles in the body feel the pain. The heart is our most important muscle and needs at least 10 times more CoQ10 than any other tissue of the body. But patients with CHF and other serious heart conditions are seen to be deficient in CoQ10. To add insult to injury, the very medications that are supposed to help the heart condition also steal CoQ10 from the human body. Beta blockers, vasodilators and statin drugs are notorious for depleting CoQ10 from patients. So everyone on medications for cardiac conditions should consider CoQ10 seriously.
There is no dearth of literature to support CoQ10 supplementation for CHF patients. It is well tolerated by most and without side effects. A meta study of 420 patients published in the BMJ Open Heart Journal found that those who received CoQ10 at 100 mg thrice a day for two years were at a substantially lower risk of heart failure than those who received the placebo.
- Hawthorne Berry: In Europe, Hawthorne berry has been studied extensively for its heart health benefits and is often used along with Digoxin to reduce the amount of that medication needed to help CHF patients. Dr. Stephen Sinatra , M.D. and Integrative Cardiologist suggests a dose of “500–1500 mg daily or take as a tincture in water three times daily” for a CHF condition. You can get resources on the other natural supplements used by integrative cardiologists on his website.
The sepalika team has also put together a small list of the three natural heart helpers , but since Congestive Heart Failure is a serious condition, you must discuss this information and supporting research with your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen.
Also remember to print out and carry to your next doctor’s appointment, the list of drugs commonly used for CHF and the nutrients they deplete over the long term. Discuss how you can put these nutrients back into your body, especially if you are feeling the symptoms of depletion we have described.
Congestive Heart Failure and EECP: The Natural Bypass?
EECP or Enhanced External Counter Pulsation is emerging as an alternative to conventional bypass surgery. Here, the patient lies down, while blood-pressure like cuffs are fixed to the thighs and calf muscles.
When the heart rests between beats, the pressure cuffs inflate in sync, pushing blood back to the heart, creating fine collateral arteries to open up. The end result, usually after 35 sessions – is that your heart suddenly has new arteries supplying fresh blood to it.
It is covered by insurance in several states in the U.S. and eecp.com can help you locate a therapy centre near you and also determine if you are a fit candidate to receive the therapy. “Even if you had to pay the $5,000 dollars out of pocket,” says Dr.Cowan, in his book, “it is certainly far safer than having your chest cracked open.”
Congestive Heart Failure: Our Parting Thoughts
Congestive Heart Failure is a serious condition, no doubt. The prognosis is also grim, going by the sheer statistics. But M.D.s like Dr.Cowan and Dr.Sinatra are combining traditional healing wisdom with the latest science to improve outcomes for patients. So go ahead, give your heart and your spirit a second chance. Begin by eating right and drinking pure water. Take a walk on the grass, in the sun. And spread the love and watch it heal your heart.