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Atherosclerosis and Heart Disease
Atherosclerosis in itself is only a condition but it is a major heart disease risk factor. What exactly is atherosclerosis? How does it affect cardiovascular health? Why is it something that needs to be addressed to help manage heart health and prevent heart disease?
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of deposits along artery walls. This build-up leads to a more narrow passageway for blood flow. Also the arteries themselves become hard and lose their elasticity. Blood circulation is then inhibited, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body (leading to high blood pressure) and there is a risk of blood flow being cut off from the heart muscle, which is what happens when a heart attack occurs. With narrowed and hardened arteries a simple blood clot could partially or fully block blood flow.
Understanding the causes of atherosclerosis and the dangers you can choose to take action to support heart health and to avoid lifestyle choices that may contribute to this condition.
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High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is caused by atherosclerosis but it can also be a cause of atherosclerosis. When blood rushes through the vessels it can cause damage to vessel walls. Areas where arteries are injured is where deposits tend to form, creating hard and narrowed arteries. A heart healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction techniques can all help to lower high blood pressure.
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Another cause of atherosclerosis is high blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol builds along the artery walls forming the fatty deposits that are responsible for this condition. Eating a diet that is high in fiber and essential fatty acids can help to lower cholesterol levels.
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Smoking tobacco is a potential cause as well. How? Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol) and raises LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol). It also can slightly raise triglyceride levels. This is why smokers are at a greater risk for atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Quitting smoking and even reducing the number of cigarettes that you smoke can help reduce your risk of developing these heart-related problems.
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Uncontrollable Risk Factors
There are some risk factors for atherosclerosis that you can not easily control through healthy choices. It is however important to know if your risk has increased because one of the following factors affects you.
- Family history — people with a family history of atherosclerosis should be particularly wary of their diet to try and prevent problems with the cardiovascular system.
- Diabetes — High blood sugar increases free radical production, causing damage to cells and reducing available nitric oxide, which is needed for healthy blood flow and to help blood vessels relax.
- Age — Calcium deposits also form along artery walls along with fatty deposits. This accumulation increases over time.
Knowing the causes of atherosclerosis you can take a look at your own health and lifestyle and determine what you can do to help reduce your risk for heart disease. A healthy cardiovascular system is so important for well-being. Having an understanding of conditions such as atherosclerosis and taking preventative measures is much easier than dealing with health problems later on.
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"How Diabetes Drives Atherosclerosis." (Science Daily) <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080313124430.htm>
US National Library of Medicine <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9440661>
Balch, Phyllis, CNC. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." (Penguin Group, 2006).
photo by National Institute of Health <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Atherosclerosis/Atherosclerosis_WhatIs.html>