Cardiovascular health encompasses the health of the heart and blood vessels in the body. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is a widespread and growing issue. Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death globally, and according to the CDC, one person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.1 Research has shown that many of the top risk factors for heart disease are modifiable dietary and lifestyle factors. Wholistic healthcare options, including chiropractic care and education, can help patients implement practical, daily changes and empower them to take control of their health outcomes.
The top risk factors for cardiovascular disease include consuming an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking, and alcohol intake. Data from over fifty countries demonstrated that over half of the deaths due to cardiovascular disease were attributable to dietary risk factors.2 While this is a worrisome statistic, chiropractic care can allow patients to shift unhealthy habits and change their health outcomes. Many patients may look for other modalities to improve their cardiovascular health rather than rely purely on medications. The chiropractic model provides the opportunity to not only improve musculoskeletal health, but also positively impact physical fitness and guide nutritional changes.
Understanding Chiropractic Care
The chiropractic profession was founded in 1895 by D.D. Palmer. In 1897, the Palmer School of Chiropractic was founded as the first chiropractic school. Chiropractic medicine is focused on helping patients to reduce their pain, improve their quality of life, optimize movement, and enhance their health naturally through conservative care. Chiropractors aim to use hands-on modalities rather than drugs or surgery to treat pain, which is often accomplished through adjustments, soft tissue therapies, rehabilitative exercises, nutritional recommendations, and lifestyle advice.
Many chiropractors focus on the alignment of the spine and its interconnectedness to the nervous system and thus its impact on the function of the various organs. More recently, chiropractors have also begun treating extremities. This may be seen when treating sports injuries, optimizing sports performance, treating those who have been in traumatic motor vehicle accidents, and while addressing common ailments.
The Connection Between the Spine and Cardiovascular System
So how exactly does a chiropractor focusing on spinal alignment relate to the cardiovascular system? The autonomic nervous system has two main components, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and they both have opposing effects on the cardiovascular system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress while the parasympathetic nervous system regulates the “rest and digest” functions of the body. Being in a parasympathetic state helps the body repair cells, strengthen the immune system, and even plays a role in fertility and reproduction. This response is connected to the cardiovascular system via nerves of the spinal cord. Specifically, the heart receives sympathetic innervation from T2 to T5 segments of the spinal cord, allowing communication between the heart and nerves of the spinal cord.3 This explains why, during a parasympathetic response, the heart rate decreases as the body relaxes.
When the spine is misaligned, or motion is restricted, the nervous system does not operate in an optimized way. Consequently, parts of the body do not receive the appropriate electrical signals or blood flow. Because the heart is innervated by nerves that come from the areas of our cervical and thoracic spine, ensuring proper alignment, and receiving adjustments or manual therapy if needed, can likely impact heart function. Chiropractic adjustments can also help with underlying issues that contribute to poor cardiovascular health, including increased blood pressure and inflammation.
Chiropractic adjustments and blood pressure
High blood pressure can lead to changes in arteries, decreasing blood flow to the heart and contributing to the development of heart disease. Studies have shown that spinal manipulation or mobilization has been able to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.4 In fact, one study found that cervical manipulation in people with high blood pressure and a misaligned C1, or atlas, vertebra, reduced their blood pressure to a level equivalent to simultaneous use of two anti-hypertensive drugs.5 Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were reduced, and this effect continued into the eighth week of the study.5
The role of chiropractic care in reducing inflammation
Inflammation is a key underlying risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing inflammation, and restoring healthy inflammation resolution, can help decrease pain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Strategies to reduce inflammation include dietary changes, such as consuming omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant-rich foods, magnesium, and B vitamins, increasing physical activity, optimizing supplementation, and minimizing alcohol and tobacco consumption. Other lifestyle factors including stress management and good sleep hygiene can also play a significant role in inflammation as well. Additionally, research suggests that receiving chiropractic adjustments can reduce the inflammatory response.6
Chiropractic Emphasis on Wholistic Health
Lifestyle factors are critical to improving cardiovascular health. There is increasing evidence in the literature that dietary changes, increasing activity level, and lowering stress can all have profound impacts on heart health. Chiropractic medicine is able to help patients with their current physical wellbeing through regular adjustments and soft tissue work, as well as their long term health by reducing cardiovascular risk factors through nutrition and lifestyle considerations. Chiropractic care has also been found to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and downregulate the sympathetic nervous system, helping patients reduce feelings of perceived stress and possibly positively impacting the cardiovascular system.7
Chiropractic care, as well as other wholistic approaches to health, can greatly enhance health and quality of life while reducing the risk of major diseases. Due to the high number of people living with high blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiovascular issues, utilizing appropriate wholistic health strategies alongside standard medicine can provide the best possible care for these patients. Often, this can include a focus on lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as supplement use. Increasing numbers of patients are open to supplements to enhance their health and approach cardiovascular health from a holistic viewpoint, rather than solely relying on medication. Working with a licensed wholistic practitioner is essential for individuals interested in supplement options as well as chiropractic care.
Chiropractic care has the ability to positively impact patients’ cardiovascular health by improving risk factors, lowering inflammation, and directly supporting the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Chiropractors have the ability to empower patients to make significant lifestyle changes in the areas of dietary choices, physical activity, and minimize other risk factors including smoking and alcohol usage. Additionally, as many patients seek chiropractic care due to pain, by providing drug-free interventions for pain relief, this wholistic approach can enable individuals to maximize their physical activity which allows them to stay happier and healthier.