The Heart is considered to be the most important of all the internal organs and is sometimes described as the “ruler” or “monarch” of the internal organs. In the classics of internal medicine it is referred to as the mind of the internal environment.
The Heart’s main functions are to govern blood, control the blood vessels, house the mind, manifest the complexion, control sweating, and open into the tongue. Let’s look into these functions a little more closely and correlate these as a whole.
The heart governs blood in two ways: 1. the transformation of the food qi (energy) essence takes place in the Heart, 2. the Heart is responsible for the circulation and distribution of blood. A healthy Heart is therefore essential for a proper supply of blood to all the bodies’ tissues. When this function is weakened or deficient the circulation will be slack and peripheral areas such as hands and feet become cold. This relationship between Heart and blood is important in another way as it determines our constitutional makeup or the strength of an individual. Constitutional makeup is determined at birth from our parents. The mixing of blood in the Heart determines the strength of the individual through life’s tribulations.
Controlling the blood vessels
The state of Heart health is reflected in the blood vessels. In other words if Heart qi is strong, the blood vessels will be in a good state, the pulse will be full and regular. If Heart qi is deficient the pulse will be feeble and irregular.
Manifests in the complexion
The Heart governs the blood and controls the blood vessels, therefore distributing blood all over the body. When this function is strong and abundant the complexion will be rosy and lustrous. If this function is deficient, the complexion will be pale or bright white. I am sure we have all seen someone about to feint or pass out and the colour of the face turns very pale. If Heart blood is stagnant, then the complexion will be a bluish-purple and likewise if Heart blood has too much heat, the complexion will be red.
Houses the mind
Chinese medicine holds that the spiritual aspect of the Heart is called Shen. Shen in Chinese medicine translates as the mind. Shen is claimed to reside in the mind. When a person has vibrant shen the eyes look clear, complexion looks lustrous, and body movements are without hesitation.
Shen can have two different contexts. Firstly Shen indicates the complexity of mental faculties which are said to reside in the Heart. Secondly Shen is used to indicate the whole sphere of emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of a human being. According to Chinese medicine, our mental activity and consciousness “reside” in the Heart, meaning that the state of the Heart and blood will affect mental activities including our emotional state. Therefore Heart health affects mental activities (including emotions), consciousness, memory, thinking and sleep. The Heart’s function of housing the mind depends on adequate nourishment from the blood. If the Heart is strong and nourished by abundant blood there will be normal mental activity, balanced emotional life with clear consciousness, good memory, and proper sleep.
Likewise if the mutual relationship between Heart strength and blood is weakened there may be mental problems such as depression, poor memory, dull thinking, insomnia, (dream disturbed sleep) and somnolence. On an emotional level, the state of the Heart determines a person’s capacity to form meaningful relationships. A healthy Heart and mind will positively influence our ability to relate to other people and form solid relations and friendships.
Blood and body fluids have a common origin; body fluids reside in the space between skin and muscle. Since the Heart governs blood and this has a relation of mutual interchange with body fluids, of which sweat is a part, therefore a weakness in Heart qi may cause profuse spontaneous sweating and or uncontrolled night sweats. Both causes are serious as body fluids are lost which further weakens Heart qi.
Opens into the tongue
In Chinese medicine the tongue is seen as an offshoot of the Heart, thus the condition of the Heart affects speech and abnormalities may cause stuttering and aphasia. Apart from speech difficulties, the Heart also influences talking and laughing. Often a Heart disharmony can cause a person to talk incessantly or laugh inappropriately.
The two leading causes of death in the West, and growing steadily in the East, are stroke and heart disease, directly related to cardiovascular health. High cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension) are conditions with few symptoms, but if diagnosed, are indications of a person’s increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Chinese medicine recognises the links between lifestyle, cholesterol levels and coronary disease. According to Chinese medicine, this link is called phlegm. Phlegm is created when we eat a poor diet or when our digestive system is not working at optimal levels. Phlegm, due to its nature, has a thickening coagulating effect on the qi and blood causing stagnation and blockage. Phlegm can slowly manifest as persistent low grade cough, continual throat clearing, plum stone throat, and feelings of stagnation, particularly in chest and throat regions.
Eight strategies toward a healthy Heart diet
1. Control portion size
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat – do not eat until you are “stuffed”, rather eat to feed the body and not the mind. Everyone has different portion sizes to suit there metabolism, remember to masticate the food properly before swallowing, and eating on the run is not good for digestive processes.
2. Eat more fruit and vegetables
Vegetables and fruit are good sources of essential vitamins and minerals, low in calories and rich in dietary fibre. Studies have found that vegetables and fruits contain substances that help in preventing cardio-vascular disease. In fact when the cardio-vascular system is in good shape, cravings for bad foods are less likely.
3. Select whole grains
Whole grains are good sources of fibre and other nutrients that help to regulate blood pressure and heart health. Limit refined grains and substitute with whole grains.
4. Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
Limiting how much saturated and Tran’s fats you eat is very important in reducing blood cholesterol, and coronary artery disease. Types of fats that increase plague in the blood are saturated fats, Trans fats, and cholesterol. Remember all types of fats are high in calories, read labels when buying processed foods if calories are high fat and sugar content will be high.
5. Choose low fat protein sources
Lean meat, poultry, fish, and low fat dairy products are good sources of protein. Be careful to choose low fat options. Legumes, beans, peas, and lentils are good sources of protein and contain no fat or cholesterol.
6. Reduce sodium intakes
Eating a lot of processed foods containing high sodium levels can increase blood pressure levels. The heart foundation recommends 1,500 mg daily, about one teaspoon for adults.
7. Plan ahead
You know what foods to feature in your diet, so put your Heart into these strategies by planning ahead. Soon the old habits fade and new habits begin. Remember calories in calories out, so a proper exercise regime combined with the above strategies should keep the blood and heart working together at optimal levels.
8. Allow yourself an occasional treat
Yes, by all means enjoy. What is important is to eat healthy foods most of the time. With planning and a few simple substitutions, you can eat with your Heart in mind.