Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, a common disease of the major blood vessels characterised by fatty streaks along the vessel walls and by deposits of cholesterol and calcium. These deposits form an area called an atheromatous plaque which can make the artery wall unstable, blood may clot on it, forming a thrombosis. Atherosclerosis is typically a silent disease until one of the many late-stage vascular manifestations intervenes. Some people with atherosclerosis may experience angina (chest pain) or intermittent claudication (leg cramps and pain) on exertion. Symptoms such as these develop gradually as the disease progresses.
Atherosclerosis of arteries supplying the heart is called coronary artery disease. It can restrict the flow of blood to the heart, which often triggers heart attacks—the leading cause of death in Americans and Europeans. One man in every four will have a heart attack before retirement age and a quarter of all deaths from heart attack occur in people under the age of 65. For women heart disease and strokes are second only to cancer as the leading cause of death between the ages of 35 and 54.
While heart disease usually strikes after the age of 45, even by the age of ten, fatty deposits which mark the beginning of arterial disease are already present in most Western children’s arteries. So widespread is this modern epidemic that we almost take heart disease for granted. We fail to protect ourselves from a condition that is not only thoroughly studied, but eminently preventable.
Cholesterol is often cited as a cause of cardiovascular disease and a low-fat diet is recommended as treatment and prevention for those at risk. But scientific research has been unable to prove that high dietary cholesterol intake increases blood cholesterol levels, in fact, there is now strong evidence to show that avoiding this kind of fat can actually have a negative affect on your health. It now seems that saturated fats far from being “bad” are actually needed by the body in order to maintain the integrity of cell walls. It is likely that cholesterol, produced in our cells, is a natural reparative substance that heals blood vessels damaged by modern ‘poisons’ such as processed foods.
Scientists have found that saturated fats and cholesterol work together to support the walls of our body’s cells, imparting strength and stability to them. When large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids are consumed, they step in for the depleted saturated fatty acids in cell walls, but they’re not a good substitute. So, the cell walls weaken, and cholesterol from the blood seeps into the tissues to offer added support. This is why blood-cholesterol levels are temporarily lowered when we consume polyunsaturated oils instead of saturated fats
Homocysteine is an amino acid that accumulates in the blood and may cause cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. Cholesterol and clogged arteries are not the cause of heart disease, but merely the symptoms of an underlying cause – raised homocysteine levels. A diet rich in vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid could reduce homocysteine to levels that are not life-threatening.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|Garlic||Antioxidant, lowers cholesterol, homocysteine and blood pressure and improves circulation.||As directed|
|Gingko Biloba||Stops platelets from sticking together too much, improves circulation, also anti-oxidant.||120-240mg daily|
|Garlic and Gingko Biloba work together to decrease the over-coagulation of blood that may contribute to atherosclerosis.|
|Antioxidants formula||To protect blood vessels from damage by free radicals||As directed|
|Fish oils||To reduce the stickiness of blood and reverse arterial plaque.||1-2gms 3 times daily|
|Vitamin E||To prevent oxidation of circulating fats and cholesterol.||400-800iu daily|
|Vitamin C||To keep blood vessels more flexible and reverse arterial blockage when combined with L-Lysine||1 to 2gms daily|
|Bromelain||To reduce blood stickiness, blood pressure and break down arterial plaques.||500mg 3 times daily|
|L Carnitine||To release energy from fats.||1000mg 1 to 3 times daily|
|Folic Acid||To keep homocysteine levels under control.||400 to 800mcg daily|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
Diabetics especially need to follow preventive measures as they are at greater risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease because high sugar in the blood causes damage to proteins, which result in further clogging of blood vessels.
Avoid all processed foods, trans fatty acids and hydrogenated fats. The processing of fats changes their molecular structure and shape. Recent research which autopsied people with atherosclerosis has indicated that trans fats used to repair artery walls are the main culprits in causing fatal narrowing of the artery.
Eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet and maintain your ideal body weight.
Do not add salt to food.
Eat good quality foods which are not over-processed. Include whole grains and cereals in your diet.
Reduce your stress levels. Aggressive verbal or physical responses when angry have been consistently related to coronary atherosclerosis in numerous studies. A low level of social support, especially when combined with a high level of outwardly expressed anger has also been associated with accelerated progression of coronary atherosclerosis.
Check your homocysteine level with a blood test from York Laboratories. Make sure that your diet is rich in B vitamin and folic acid containing foods.
Suggested further reading:
- Atherosclerosis explained
- Preventing atherosclerosis
This is an interesting video, but you may with to view the article on cholesterol.