Different forms of arteriosclerosis are the primary causes of heart disease and strokes. arteriosclerosis is considered to be the underlying cause of about 50 percent of all deaths ., it’s the No. 1 killer!
Thanks to numerous studies and advancements in technology, we now have a clearer understanding of the complex molecular mechanisms that lead to arterial and coronary heart diseases. Strong evidence shows that there’s a connection between certain lifestyle factors and cholesterol metabolism, the dangerous development of atherosclerotic plaque and chronic diseases that affect so many people every single year.
While in the past heart disease might have been largely attributed to genetic factors and was viewed as an inevitable part of aging, the focus has now shifted to empowering adults to help prevent heart-related problems by adjusting their diets, exercise routines, stress levels and mindsets.
What Is Arteriosclerosis?
Arteriosclerosis is a heart condition that occurs when the blood vessels become thick and stiff. Normally in a healthy person, arteries are flexible and elastic, which allows for good circulation and nutrient distribution. However, over time, as someone ages or her health deteriorates from a combination of factors, the walls of the arteries can start to harden.
Although it’s considered a heart (or vascular) problem primarily, thickening of the arteries can happen anywhere in the body. Because the main blood vessels flowing to and from your heart have the crucial role of carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, this condition is considered very serious and can become deadly. When your arteries become stiff, they start restricting blood flow to your major organs, muscles and tissues, which can lead to a sudden heart attack, stroke, organ failure and other issues.
Symptoms of Arteriosclerosis
Atherosclerosis, which occurs when there’s a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances (usually called plaque) in the artery walls, is one specific type of arteriosclerosis that is tied to heart attacks. Many people use the terms interchangeably because both result in a dangerous restriction in blood flow and raise the risk for cardiac arrest.
When someone develops atherosclerosis, plaque buildups can form blood clots that eventually burst. However, not all cases of arteriosclerosis involve blood clots or lead to heart attacks. In fact, for many people with mild or early forms of arteriosclerosis don’t even cause any noticeable symptoms at all. Because the disease forms gradually and can accompany weight gain or someone getting older, it’s easy to brush aside symptoms, which can unfortunately lead to the disease worsening over time.
Many people won’t have atherosclerosis symptoms until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can’t supply adequate blood to organs and tissues. At this time, it’s possible to have a transient ischemic attack, which is a mild heart attack that is capable of progressing to a more serious stroke or heart failure.
When someone does experience symptoms of arteriosclerosis, these can include:
- chest pain or pressure (angina)
- sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs
- difficulty speaking or slurred speech
- drooping muscles in your face
- leg pain when walking
- high blood pressure or kidney failure
- erectile dysfunction, difficulties having sex or pain around the genitals
What Causes Atherosclerosis?
The initial step in the development of atherosclerosis is damage to the lining of an artery. This damage is usually the result of free radicals (highly reactive toxic chemicals) and/or inflammation. Once the artery lining has been damaged, the site of injury attracts monocytes (large white blood cells) and platelets (small blood cells involved in the formation of blood clots). These monocytes and platelets adhere to the damaged area, where they release growth factors that stimulate plaque formation and the accumulation of fat and cholesterol deposits. Reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes involves reducing or, when possible, eliminating the following major risk factors:
If two or more of these major factors apply to you, your risk increases significantly (see Table 1). For example, if you smoke, have high cholesterol and have high blood pressure, you are more than 700 times likelier to have heart disease —and you will probably die 20 to 30 years sooner—than someone without any of these factors.
Table 1: The More Major Risk Factors Present, the Greater the Risk
|Condition||Increased Risk of Heart Disease|
|Presence of 1 major risk factor||30%|
|High cholesterol + high blood pressure||300%|
|High cholesterol + smoking||350%|
|High blood pressure + smoking||350%|
|Smoking + high blood pressure + high cholesterol||720%|
In addition, there are several other risk factors that have been shown in some studies to be even more important than the so-called major risk factors:
- Elevations of markers of silent inflammation like C-reactive protein and fibrinogen
- Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- Low consumption of dietary antioxidants
- Low levels of magnesium and potassium
- Low levels of folic acid, which leads to elevations in homocysteine
How is Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis Diagnosed?
To begin with, the treating physician will take a detailed history looking for any prior family history of the same condition. The physician will also inquire about any habits like smoking or drinking alcohol. In cases of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis, the physician will find signs of the following :
- Extremely weak pulse near the affected artery
- Decreased blood pressure in the affected extremity
- The physician may hear bruits over the arteries
Based on the findings the physician may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis:
- Blood Tests: Blood test will be done to look for any abnormality in the bloodstream in the form of cholesterol or any other fatty substances.
- Doppler Ultrasound: This device will be used for checking blood pressure at different area of the arm or leg to look for any abnormality in the readings.
Ankle-brachial Index: This test can confirmatively inform whether an individual has
- Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis. The physician may compare the blood pressure in the arm with that of the ankle. This reading is called as ankle brachial index and may confirm the presence of the disease.
- Electrocardiogram: This test shows the heartbeat in the form of electrical impulses. This test can show whether there is any abnormality in the rhythm of the heart and whether the heart is functioning normally.
- Echocardiogram: This test makes use of ultrasound waves to look at the functioning of the heart. This test can accurately identify any abnormality of the functioning of the heart.
- Treadmill Stress Test: This test is conducted to find out the exercise tolerance of the patient and how much distance the patient can cover on the treadmill before the patient starts having symptoms. This is quite helpful in confirming the diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan.
- Cardiac Catheterization: This is a minimally invasive test in which a catheter is inserted in the heart through the leg. This test accurately measures the pressure that is exerted on the chambers of the heart.
The best mode of treatment for Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis is lifestyle modifications in the form of eating a healthy diet, staying away from smoking and drinking alcohol, maintaining an ideal weight, and monitoring the weight. In some cases, medications or even surgery may be required to treat the condition.
Which Dietary Factors are Important in Atherosclerosis?
I recommend the following diet to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis:
- An abundance of plant food, including fruit, vegetables, breads, pasta, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
- Minimally processed foods, with a focus on seasonally fresh and locally grown products
- Fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, with sweets containing concentrated sugars or honey consumed a few times per week at the most
- Daily consumption of dairy products, principally cheese and yogurt, in low to moderate amounts and in low-fat varieties
- Regular consumption of fish
- Moderate consumption of poultry and eggs—about one to four times weekly—or not at all
- Small, infrequent amounts of red meat
- Olive oil as the principal source of fat
- Wine in low to moderate amounts, normally with meals
The two components of the Mediterranean diet that have received a lot of attention are red wine and olive oil. Red wine is thought to be responsible for the “French paradox,” a term used to explain why the French consume more saturated fat than Americans, yet have a lower incidence of heart disease. This is thought to be the result of the flavonoids in red wine, which protect against oxidative damage to the arteries from LDL (bad) cholesterol.
In addition to oleic acid—a heart-protective monounsaturated fatty acid—olive oil also contains several antioxidant agents that prevent circulating LDL cholesterol from becoming damaged and then subsequently damaging the arteries. Olive oil lowers amounts of LDL cholesterol and increases the level of protective HDL cholesterol. It has also been proven to reduce elevated blood triglycerides (another risk factor for heart disease), though it is not as effective as fish oils.
Which Nutritional Supplements Should I Take for Atherosclerosis?
Foundation Supplements. High potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula; Vitamin D3 2,000-5,000 IU/day; Fish oil, EPA+DHA 1,000 to 3,000 mg/day.
Fish oil. Of all the available nutritional supplements to prevent heart disease, the most important without question is a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It is now estimated that individuals whose diets include a higher intake of fish oils reduce their risk of heart disease and strokes by roughly 47 percent compared to people who do not eat fish or take fish oil supplements. In fact, the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the body (the Omega-3 Index) has been shown to be the most accurate predictor of heart disease risk. It is a more sensitive indicator than other well-recognized markers such as total cholesterol, LDL or HDL cholesterol, CRP or homocysteine levels. A combined 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA omega-3s daily is required to achieve the Omega-3 Index shown to be protective. If you have high triglycerides or other risk factor for heart disease, take 3,000 mg EPA+DHA daily.
Grapeseed or pine bark extract contain flavonoids known as procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs) that have exceptional antioxidant and free radical–scavenging activity. Take 300 mg of PCOs daily. Note: Green tea extract can be substituted for PCOs; take 300 mg of green tea catechins (polyphenols) daily.
4 Natural Remedies for Arteriosclerosis
1. Eat Healthy Sources of Fats
All types of fats aren’t bad — in fact, natural fats of all kinds can help fight inflammation that is at the root of most diseases. For example, diets that include plenty of monounsaturated fat have been linked to a lower rate of coronary heart disease. Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) can help decrease LDL-cholesterol plasma levels when they replace certain saturated fats, trans-fats and refined carbohydrates. High intakes of monounsaturated fats from natural sources like beneficial avocados and olive oil are now being advocated to prevent cardiovascular diseases of all types.
Evidence from traditional diets of people living in Mediterranean countries shows promising results when it comes to consuming these types of anti-inflammatory fats. People following the Mediterranean diet living in countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey have consumed high quantities of MUFAs for centuries, especially in the form of extra-virgin olive oil.
While the percentages and numbers can seen overwhelming, the changes to your diet don’t need to be. First and foremost, try to eliminate trans fats from your diet all together. These are also called “hydrogenated fats” and are found in most commercially baked products and many fast foods. Another important factor is staying away from refined, often rancid vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, canola, corn and soybean oils, for example) that are normally highly processed.
Recommendations for exact percentages of fat sources is where things get debatable and somewhat unclear. The American Heart Association advises that adults get at least 5 percent to 10 percent of daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids, which include healthy sources like nuts and seeds. They also recommend keeping daily intake of saturated fats (found mostly in animal products or coconuts) to 7 percent or less of total calories and cholesterol under 200–300 milligrams a day.
I personally think these recommendations neglect to tell the full truth about saturated fats. Cholesterol is important and even healing in moderation. Low cholesterol levels can be worse than high levels in some cases! If you have high cholesterol, this is a sign that your body is trying to repair itself and experiencing inflammation, but eating the cholesterol itself isn’t causing the issue.
What most experts do agree on is ditching packaged foods and focusing on monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3s) and natural saturated fats in moderation. Eat fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week (about eight ounces a week) for their supply of omega-3 fatty acids that are linked to reduced risk of sudden death and death from coronary artery diseases. Use extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil in place of refined vegetable oils and enjoy plenty of nuts, seeds and avocados.
2. Limit Refined Carbohydrates and Increase Your Fiber Intake
While healthy fats are important, keep in mind that the most appropriate nutritional model to prevent arteriosclerosis also incorporates other factors of someone’s diet, especially the types of carbohydrates a person eats. Certain carbohydrates are anti-inflammatory foods that provide fiber and important nutrients when you eat them in their natural, whole form. As high-antioxidant foods, they support key elements of heart health like reducing unhealthy cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure levels.
Focus on getting the majority of your carbohydrates from a variety of high-fiber foods, especially vegetables and fruit (including sulfur-containing veggies like leafy greens, cruciferous veggies and onions). These fight free radical damage, provide fiber and help prevent the digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. High-fiber foods include:
- all types of vegetables, both non-starchy and starchy (try them in a heart-healthy juice to save time)
- all types of fruit
- 100 percent whole grains (especially gluten-free grains like rolled oats, quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth)
- beans and legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lima beans
Cut down on beverages and foods that contain added sugars of all kinds: agave, corn syrups, sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltrose, dextrose and so on. Nutrition-rich maple syrup and raw honey are healthy choices in moderation, but even these need to be monitored. Steer clear of sugar hiding in almost all packaged foods: sweetened cereals, yogurts, bottled drinks, condiments, breads, energy bars and so on.
And when it comes to alcohol (often another hidden source of sugar), the AHA recommends limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
3. Get Regular Exercise
Controlling your diet and weight, quitting smoking or drug use, and exercising regularly are considered essential components of any healthy lifestyle program. Exercise benefits your heart by making it stronger and more resilient. It increases your ability to distribute oxygen and nutrients to your organs and cells, helps reduce stress, and can help you maintain a healthy weight — especially when combined with mindful eating.
How much is enough? Try to get at least 30 minutes of daily exercise (preferably 60–90 minutes if it’s low intensity) daily. If you’re healthy enough, you can also try doing shorter but more intense workouts, including burst training or high intensity interval training (HIIT) that are linked to better overall heart health.
Whatever type you choose, do it consistently: Regular exercise is linked to lower atherosclerosis risk factors including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess weight. Physical activity also can lower your risk for diabetes and raise your HDL cholesterol level.
4. Reduce Stress Levels
Research shows that the most commonly reported “trigger” for a heart attack is stress resulting from an emotionally upsetting event. Anger, poor sleep, depression, overeating, anxiety and drug dependence can all raise your risk for arteriosclerosis because of their impact on hormone levels that affect inflammation and, therefore, heart functioning. It’s crucial for every adult to learn how to manage stress, relax, and cope with emotional and physical problems.
Some ideas for lowering the impact of stress in your life? Find a support group you’re interested in, regularly get some physical activity, try mediation, massage therapy or another form of relaxation, and start to use relaxing essential oils.
Supplements to Help Prevent Arteriosclerosis
- Omega-3 fish oils: People with existing heart disease should consider taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements (1–4 g/day depending on your condition might be appropriate)
- Magnesium: helps relax muscles and balances mineral levels
- Coenzyme Q10: helps defend cells from damage by harmful free radicals thanks to having strong antioxidant protection
- Turmeric: reduces inflammation and acts as a natural anticoagulant/antiplatelet treatment
- Consume Garlic and Onions.Try to incorporate onion and garlic in your daily diet. They have been well known since time immemorial for treating arteriosclerosis. If you can’t include them in your diet, then take garlic pills that are readily available on the market.
- Intake of Vitamin C. Increase the intake of food and beverages that are rich in Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps in the production of bile acid by converting the cholesterol. Therefore, orange juice and lemon juice should be taken frequently.
- Essential oils: can help heal inflammation, lower stress and fight symptoms related to heart disease. Some include lavender oil, lemon oil, lemongrass oil, frankincense oil, helichrysum oil and ginger oil. Ginger essential oil, for example, contains the highest levels of anti-inflammatory gingerol, and helichrysum essential oil kicks off inflammatory enzyme inhibition, free-radical scavenging activity and corticoid-like effects.