Preventative Guide: Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart disease and is characterized by a hardening and narrowing of the arteries as a result of plaque buildup. When the lining of an artery is damaged, cells gather around the damage site to repair the area. This build-up of cells at the damaged site causes plaque to accumulation as a protective layer, hardening and narrowing the arteries. Plaque is made from a variety of substances including calcium, fats, and cholesterol. Hardening of the arteries can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and vascular disease.
Heart disease affects hundreds of thousands of people in the US each year and is the leading cause of death for both women and men. After the age of 55 women are at a higher risk for atherosclerosis, however prevention before this point is a good idea, particularly if you have any of the risk factors for atherosclerosis.
· High Blood Sugar
· High/unbalanced Cholesterol
· Poor Diet
· Lack of fiber
· Lack of exercise
· Excess Alcohol
· Family History
While there are many symptoms and signs of Atherosclerosis, in many cases symptoms are not felt or go unnoticed until it is too late. Signs and symptoms may include: chest pain or pressure, numbness in extremities, leg pain, difficulty speaking, drooping face, change in vision, high blood pressure, and pain in the genital area.
If you feel any of these symptoms it is important to seek immediate medical care.
There are many actions you can begin taking today to prevent atherosclerosis and reduce your risk of heart disease. The most promising of these actions is adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Wholesome foods including plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts, and healthy oils, along with sufficient water are all beneficial in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
Eat the rainbow, the following foods are examples of healthful foods to incorporate in your diet to create healthy, nourishing meals.
Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, peppers, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, beets, carrots
Fruits: apples, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, lemon juice, bananas, melon
Whole Grains: quinoa, amaranth, brown rice
Lean Meats/Fish: organic chicken, turkey, eggs, wild salmon
Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pecans, cashews, hemp hearts
Healthy Oils: cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, avocado oil
Artichoke Leaf Extract – high in flavonoids, helps to balance good and bad cholesterol levels (1.5g daily in divided doses).
Hawthorne Berry - acts on the heart, can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce inflammation. May be prepared as a tea or used as a tincture or supplement.
Turmeric: potent anti-inflammatory. Can be taken in tincture or capsule form.
Try: “golden milk” [steamed non-dairy milk, blended with turmeric, a pinch of black pepper, and a small amount of honey].
Dandelion Root- supports liver function and detoxification. Dandelion root can be taken as a tea or enjoyed as a herbal coffee alternative in drinks such as ‘Dandy Blend.’
Ginko (Ginko Biloba) Leaf: blood vessel tonic, improves blood circulation and has been shown useful in preventing plaque buildup. The recommended therapeutic dosage is 40mg of 24% extract, three times daily for at least 3 months.
Vitamin C: powerful antioxidant properties, strengthens blood vessels, dissolves fats through the creation of lipoprotein lipase, thereby reducing plaque buildup. (Therapeutic doses vary widely ~ 4,000mg daily or until bowel tolerance is reached).
CoQ10: if you take statin medications to control your blood pressure, CoQ10 is an absolute must as it corrects the deficiency caused by the meds. Try 30-90 mg daily.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: anti-inflammatory and greatly associated with reduced risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease mortality (400-600mg daily).
Vitamin E: powerful antioxidant, fights free radical damage and prevents blood clots (600-650 I.U. daily).
Magnesium: relaxes muscles, reduce stress, calms body and mind and may aid in restful sleep. Also helps to keep calcium in solution, reducing arterial plaque buildup (400-550mg daily).
Regular exercise is essential. Choose any form of exercise which you find enjoyable and gentle on the body.
Try: Yoga, qigong, swimming, or walking.
Sufficient Sleep is essential for repair of the body and prevention of disease.
Try: Aim for 8 hours each night.
A healthy clean diet free from processed refined foods, sugars, and excess alcohol helps to prevent plaque buildup in the blood vessels and arteries. Fat and exogenous cholesterol is not the enemy in atherosclerosis and heart disease as we’ve been lead to believe - it’s sugar, damaged fats, and processed foods.
Try: Choosing organic foods when possible to avoid chemical contaminants.
Don’t be afraid of healthy fat: sufficient levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis as well as beneficial mono-unsaturated fats from nuts and seeds.
Try: Wild caught salmon, almonds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pecans.
Choose antioxidant-rich foods – the more colorful the better!
Try: berries, citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, red peppers, broccoli, purple cabbage, and kale.
Increase dietary fiber intake: adequate fiber encourages regular bowel movements and removes toxins from the body. When the body is constipated, toxins and free radicals in the large intestine can be reabsorbed into the body stream and may be a contributing factor to atherosclerosis.
Try: adding leafier green vegetables, legumes, and flaxseed into the diet, or opt for a supplement of psyllium fiber if dietary intake is not sufficient.
Adequate water intake: water is essential for life. Water acts as the solution for all chemical reactions in the body. Healthy blood vessels and cells begin with proper hydration. Adequate hydration will also help your body to eliminate toxins. A simple calculation to determine how much water your body needs is taking your body weight in pounds divided in half and this is the number of ounces of water you should be consuming daily (e.g. 180lb person /2 = 90oz of water daily).
Reduce inflammation: inflammation of the blood vessels can lead to atherosclerosis. Herbs to reduce inflammation and lifestyle change to reduce stress such as meditation are recommended.
Try: Ginger and turmeric roots in tea for anti-inflammatory and circulatory system benefits.
Reduce stress: stress is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis, heart disease as well as a wide range of other chronic diseases. Reducing stress not only helps your physical health, but your mental health will benefit as well. Finding a calm and peaceful lifestyle can have a profound impact on your enjoyment of life.
Try: adopting a yoga, qigong or meditation practice.
Breathing exercises: Along with exercise and meditation, breathing exercises also help to reduce stress and anxiety, increase circulation, and bringing the body into balance
Try: alternate nostril breathing (anulom vilom pranayama), a balancing breath for the left and right sides of the brain.
Chelation therapy has been shown helpful to remove plaque buildup in some cases of atherosclerosis. Chelation therapy helps to detox the body of heavy metals which have accumulated in the body over time by injecting a synthetic amino acid called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) which binds to heavy metals in the body, moving through the kidneys and excreted in the urine. In terms of heart health, EDTA may help in removing excess calcium deposits in the arteries, helping to clear out the buildup of plaque.
Liver Detoxification protocols can help remove excess toxins from the body. Almost all toxins and chemicals that come into the body are filtered through the liver. When the liver is overworked, it may start to have trouble performing this job and the body can become toxic. Excess toxins and free radicals in the body cause damage to the blood vessels and can lead to atherosclerosis as a result.
Try: a simple liver detoxification protocol which includes eating wholesome foods, removing processed foods and sugar, caffeine, and alcohol and includes a liver cleansing herb such as Dandelion root. Drink plenty of water.
Far Infrared Saunas are another method for detoxifying the body, increase circulation and reducing stress. Far infrared saunas use infrared radiation to create a heat which warms the body and induces sweating. Toxins are released through the sweat!
Extra benefits include relaxation, improved skin, pain relief and often, weight loss.
Some people choose to have infrared saunas installed in their home, or you may choose to visit a spa or clinic which provides this service.