Atherosclerosis

Progressive stricture and possible closure of arteries followed by tissue death. The cause is free radicals causing cholesterol, e.g., to clog up inside the vessel wall and reduce its diametre. Also see "Cardiovascular diseases".

Atherosclerosis is a condition which is gradually worsened in which cholesterol enters an artery and is deposited as a mass in the vessel wall. This increasing depositing provokes an inflammatory reaction (to which free radicals contribute) and causes scar formation and calcium depositing.

In time, a kind of cholesterol abscess is formed that may burst and thereby cause a wound in the vessel wall to develop. The uneven surface that follows from this substantially increases the risk of a blood clot, so from having been a static condition, the atherosclerosis now becomes a life-threatening disease.

A light case of atherosclerosis does not necessarily cause complications or noticable symptoms other than the elevated cholesterol level accompanying the condition. Angina pectoris, however, is one of the symptoms typically arising in case of a more severe case of atherosclerosis in which the coronary arteries are gradually closed so that the heart does not get enough blood and oxygen.

The cause of the atherosclerosis is lipoprotein A plus an oxidation of the LDL cholesterol which produces the tissue damaging free radicals and starts a process which transforms the oxidized cholesterol into a sticky mass which is deposited on the vessel wall and in time totally or partially closes the passage of blood. A large or small fragment of this depositing can break away and float with the blood stream until it gets stuck (as a blood clot) in a vessel in the leg, heart, or brain.

Most people have some degree of atherosclerosis. There are vague boundaries to the condition which develops through your whole life. Recent research has shown that atherosclerosis already begins in the teenage years and therefore, it should be prevented relatively early.

Recommendations

General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

Ankle Pressure Measurement
At your physician you can have your blood pressure at the ankle with the help of a Doppler stethoscope. It is a fairly accurate method of diagnosing atherosclerosisand evaluating the risk of suffering an embolism. Ankle/arm ratio should be 1.1 - 1.2. This means that the pressure at the ankle should be 10 - 20 % higher than the pressure at the arm (systolic).

Pains in the musculature of the calf can be a sign that the arteries does not provide the muscles with sufficient amounts of blood. The pains can present themselves as contractions in the calves and they will appear more rapidly when running, walking uphill, or walking briskly.

A very low-fat diet reduces both kinds of cholesterol which results in an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases when the HDL cholesterol level is too low. Make sure to control your cholesterol number and your blood pressure. See the "Special Remarks" below.

If you suffer from cold feet, you should avoid using a hot-water bottle or an electric heating pad which will result in the feet not getting enough blood. You should rather use woollen and loose-fitting socks on your feet.

In case of atherosclerosis, the conventional treatment is cholesterol reducing medication in order to reduce the amount of cholesterol, but recent research has shown that an elevated cholesterol level is not necessarily connected with problems. On the contrary, the moment of danger seems to occur at the moment the LDL cholesterol is oxidized. It is therefore important to prevent this oxidation in the circulation and here antioxidants come into play.

Theoretically, a person can have quite high values of LDL cholesterol without being in danger as long as he/she makes sure to have a sufficient consumption of antioxidant substances like vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. The most important thing is to protect the LDL cholesterol from oxidation which is most effectively done with the antioxidants vitamin E and Co-enzyme Q10 and others.

Generally it is a good idea to change your dietary habits if you are predisposed to atherosclerosis. Animal fat should to a large extent be replaced by omega 3- and omega 6 fatty acids which aid in changing the lipid profile in a more beneficial direction. Likewise, any source of free radicals that can be regulated, like smoking, should be eliminated since smoking promotes the atherosclerotic process.

Exercise is especially beneficial. However, in the more advanced stages of atherosclerosis, you should consult your own doctor in order to avoid that the circulation and heart is strained too much.

Food that can help to maintain a good cholesterol balance is:
Fruits and vegetables; especially almonds, apples, avocado, barley, beans, black tea, carrots, fatty fish, fruit pulp from grapefruit, grape kernel oil, green tea, leguminous fruits, oat and oat bran, rape oil, rice bran, seaweed (kelp), shellfish, shitake fungi, strawberry, walnuts, and alcohol in moderate amounts.

Onion - in as raw a state as possible - elevates the "beneficial" HDL cholesterol. Olive oil does the same and at the same time lowers the "harmful" LDL cholesterol. Garlic is known for its ability to be beneficial to the circulation and the metabolism of cholesterol. It both lowers the total cholesterol level and improves the balance between LDL- and HDL cholesterol. Eat fresh garlic as often as possible as a spice in food. You can also lower your cholesterol number by eating a fair portion of beans or oat bran every day.

Ginkgo biloba and buckwheat support the circulation, garlic dilutes the blood, reduces fat depots, and lowers the cholesterol level, ginger strengthens the circulation, and guar gum lowers the cholesterol level.

Amino acids
  • Carnitine reduces the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and lowers the blood fat which actually poses an even larger risk factor than the general cholesterol concentration. At the same time it increases HDL, the so-called beneficial cholesterol. It improves the tolerance towards physical activity in people with sufferings in the coronary arteries. The amino acid causes the energy resources to be increased and the blood vessels to be enlarged.
  • Taurine keeps the fatty acids and the cholesterol in liquid form and counteracts potassium deficiency and thereby protects the cardiac muscle.
  • According to some researchers, lysine prevents the development of atherosclerosis by binding lipoprotein in the blood and thereby preventing it from clinging to the vessel wall. It is not known whether a lysine supplement can reduce already existing atherosclerosis.

Antioxidants
  • Vitamin C counteracts the damages on the vessel walls that start off the formation of plaque.
  • Vitamin E complements vitamin C and counteracts oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

Regarding essential fatty acids (EFA):
Omega 3 can be found in flaxseed, cod-liver oil, fatty fish, walnuts, rape, purslane, pumpkin seeds, green vegetables, and wheat germ. 1 tbsp. of cod-liver oil a day or 1 tsp. of ground flaxseed or walnut oil every morning is cheaper than fish oil capsules. If you want, you can add a couple of vitamin E capsules to the flaxseed oil to avoid rancidity.

Omega 6 can be found in blackcurrants, borage, cold-pressed maize-, sesame-, sunflower-, thistle-, and evening primrose oil plus seeds.

Warnings

Even little wounds on the feet can result in serious infections in persons with a poor circulation. If suffering from cold feet you should avoid using a hot-water bottle or an electric heating pad since they cause a reduction in the amount of blood in the heated area. If using Guar gum, Cyanopsis tetragonoloba, you should drink plenty of water and not overdo the use of it as it can cause gas, constipation, and swelling of the abdomen.

Remarks

Having your cholesterol measured is only a guide; it is really not much use as it only measures the total cholesterol number which is the sum of the two kinds of cholesterol, i.e. HDL and LDL. Since having an elevated LDL number is what is dangerous, it is not necessarily obligatory to be frightened if the cholesterol number turns out to be elevated. It is possible that it is the HDL number which is proportionally elevated and that is not harmful.

Also see "Angina Pectoris", "Blood clots in general", "Blood pressure problems", "Cardiovascular diseases", "Cholesterol problems", "Coronary thrombosis", and "Varicose veins", plus ”Garlic, sources of” under Research.

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