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Last year, on a 15-mile hike for which I had not packed enough water to deal with summer heat, I became dehydrated and had a heart attack. Well-meaning friends later urged me to take herbs, some of which would have caused another attack.

There is an herb that is helpful for almost any health condition, but all herbs don't treat all complaints. That principle is also true for heart herbs. Used for the right indication, these ten herbs can be extraordinarily useful, but used in the wrong circumstances, they can even make heart disease worse.

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1. Garlic.

Garlic is both a food and an herb. Eaten in its natural state (chewing is essential to release some of his active chemicals) or taken as a tablet or a capsule, garlic can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, although not as much as statin drugs, and also lower blood pressure, although not quite as much as many medications.

So what's not to love about this pungent addition to healthy diet? If you are on Coumadin (warfarin), Plavix, or Brilinta, it is possible that the blood thinning properties of garlic might be too much. This isn't likely to be something you notice until the first time you cut youself. Some heart patients who take anticoagulants and eat a lot of garlic report that minor cuts cause bleeding that creates what looks like a crime scene.

2. Hawthorn.

Just about anyone who has had a heart attack and who has a friend who is "into" herbs will be told to take hawthorn, and the fact is that there are many times that hawthorn is just right for the heart. Hawthorn helps the heart beat slower and stronger. It helps the heart adapt to low-oxygen conditions without generating the inflammation that damages heart cells. 

But there are people who shouldn't take hawthorn. If you have a basically healthy heart but severely athersclerotic arteries, hawthorn can cause high blood pressure. In fact, there are people who have had their first heart attack after they started using hawthorn on a regular basis. If you have congestive heart failure, you accumulate fluid in your ankles, or you easily get out of breath when you walk, hawthorn may be helpful. But monitor your blood pressure carefully when you take the herb.

3. Ginkgo.

Millions of people take gingko leaf extract (which is not the same thing as the raw herb, used in teas, or the ginkgo nut, eaten as a food) for age-related mental decline. The usefulness of ginkgolide extract made by German herb product giant Schwabe Arzneimittel has been shown in over 2,000 studies. Some people experiencing "brain fog" after coronary bypass operations and other heart procedures take ginkgo to improve their memories and stay alert.

Some people who have had heart surgery should be careful with ginkgo, however. There are only a few isolated case reports of bleeding in people who use the herb, but if you take Coumadin (warfarin) or any other anticoagulant, and most people who have had stent placement or bypass surgery do for at least a few months, then you should avoid ginkgo.

4. Echinacea

Echinacea is one of Europe's and North America's most popular immune stimulant herbs. Taken during colds and flu season, especially at the beginning of an upper respiratory infection, its anti-inflammatory action can help speed recovery. But people who take niacin or fibrates for lowering cholesterol should avoid it, because of the effects of the combination of the drugs and herb on the liver.

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