Five Things to Know About Integrative Cardiology

Integrative heart care focuses on caring for whole person

An older woman holds heart figure to symbolize integrative heart care.

Integrative heart care focuses on caring for whole person

Conventional medicine can offer heart patients the very latest in medications, surgeries and interventional procedures to treat heart conditions. However, preventing heart issues can be challenging.

Integrative cardiology uses both conventional medicine and complementary approaches like diet and exercise to help prevent or manage heart disease. It focuses on the whole person, not just symptoms, for improved and long-lasting outcomes.

“Certainly, risk factors like family history, high blood pressure, cholesterol and genetics can affect a person’s health. But there are also less obvious but modifiable factors that can impact your health, such as a sedentary lifestyle, stress, poor nutrition and inadequate sleep," says Poulina Uddin, MD, an integrative cardiologist at the Scripps Women’s Heart Center who is board certified in both cardiology and internal medicine.

Successful integrative heart care, she says, starts with an open, honest dialogue with your physician that considers all factors that affect your health. “The goal is always to create a care plan that addresses your unique physical, emotional, social and spiritual health.”

Who benefits from integrative cardiology?

Integrative cardiology can benefit anyone looking to improve their heart health and overall wellness. It can also help people who have already experienced a heart attack or other heart problems.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases accounted for more than 930,000 deaths in the United States in 2021, according to the American Heart Association.

Five things to know about integrative cardiology

Integrative cardiology uses different treatments to promote heart health and prevent or manage heart disease. Common treatments include diet changes, exercise, stress management and supplements.

1. Make nutrition and exercise goals realistic and achievable

Set realistic goals to improve your heart health. Be specific about what you will cut back on and what you will eat more of.

Focus on reducing processed foods, foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and increasing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. This will help you stay motivated and on track towards better heart health.

“I ask my patients to make a list of what they are eating, and then give very specific recommendations for substitutions, portions, and problem foods. This makes it much easier for people to get started in the process.” Dr. Uddin says.

For people who need help learning how to cook heart healthy meals, Dr. Uddin recommends nutrition and cooking classes. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are known to be beneficial for heart health.

Exercising is good for your heart but starting or getting back into a routine can be tough. Find an activity you enjoy and keep track of your workouts. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, five days a week.

2. Look beyond the physical symptoms

An integrative approach considers all factors, not just symptoms, when creating a personalized care plan for each patient.

 “If someone comes in after a heart attack, I ask what happened that day. Were they angry with someone? Was there a stressful event?” Dr. Uddin says. “All the physical risk factors are important, but I also want to know why did it happen on that particular day? The majority of the time, there is some emotional or environmental trigger.”

3. Learn effective ways to manage stress

Stress and anger can be major risk factors in heart disease. Learning to deal with these negative feelings can lower risk and benefit overall wellness.

Try activities like meditation, yoga, or spending time outdoors to reduce stress and improve wellness.

“I’m a big proponent of dealing with stress. I send plenty of patients to acupuncture or healing touch — a therapy that focuses on the energy field surrounding the body — and I teach breathing exercises in my office,” Dr. Uddin says. 


“I often recommend yoga,” she adds. “I became a certified yoga instructor because I wanted to be able to set up classes for my patients who are apprehensive about doing it on their own. A lot of patients just need that support.”

4. Complement conventional medicine rather than replacing it

An integrative approach complements traditional heart care.


For a generally healthy patient who may be slightly overweight and have high cholesterol, lifestyle changes — such as improving their nutrition, exercising and managing stress — may be enough to lower their risk.


“Having a personalized plan to follow makes that more realistic,” Dr. Uddin says.


Should there be no progress in six months, it may be necessary to consider medication. This brings up questions about prescription drugs versus natural supplements.

5. Use natural supplements wisely

Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and vitamin D supplements can help heart health. However, supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle.

Use supplements carefully and get advice from your health care provider. This will help prevent any interactions with medications.

If you’ve had a heart attack or stent, standard medications such as aspirin and statins, remain part of the recommended treatment.

Some patients may not want to take prescription drugs and prefer using herbs or supplements instead. However, these alternatives are not as closely monitored or tested for safety and effectiveness as prescription medications. 

“Red yeast rice, for example, can be a substitute for statins, but the chemical effect on the body is essentially the same, and you’re still taking a pill that may or may not be as safety-tested as a prescription drug,” Dr. Uddin says.

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