Atherosclerosis is an arterial disease in which plaque builds up on the inner lining of an artery. Overtime, plaque (made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances like calcium) hardens and narrows arteries, thus impairing blood flow. When blood flow (for instance, to the heart) is severely restricted, symptoms like chest pain occur. If left untreated, serious problems (such as stroke, heart attack, or death) can occur.
Risks of Atherosclerosis
- advancing age (in males, risks greatly increase after the age of 45 and in females, after the age of 55)
- gender (males have a higher risk than females but females are more likely to die from the disease)
- family history (risks of atherosclerosis increase if you have a close relative diagnosed with it at an early age)
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- emotional tension
- physical inactivity
- cigarette smoking
- heavy alcohol use.
Prevention of Atherosclerosis
Diet and Exercise
Diet and exercise play a big role in treating and preventing diseases that can cause atherosclerosis, like high blood pressure.
• Saturated fats and trans fatty acids (including hydrogenated oils) can increase ones risks of getting atherosclerosis. Avoid or limit red meat, full-fat dairy products, margarine, fast food, and junk food.
• Eat healthy fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6 fats). Foods include olive oil, salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed.
• Eat more whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, dietary fiber, and foods high in antioxidants. Avoid a high salt intake.
• Maintain a healthy weight and stay active. Exercise improves blood flow to the heart, reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol levels, and burns fat.
• Garlic can decrease platelets from sticking.
• Green tea can block oxidation of cholesterol.
• Ginkgo biloba can improve blood flow and neutralize free radicals.
• Passion flower can relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.
• Grape seed can help prevent damage to the lining of the artery, lower blood cholesterol levels, and shrink cholesterol deposits in the artery.
Other Ways to Help in the Prevention of Atherosclerosis
• Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risks of atherosclerosis greatly. Tobacco contains more than 50 known carcinogens that can damage the lining of arteries. Smoking contributes to high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
• Limit alcohol. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day and women should have no more than 1 drink a day.
• Find healthy ways to handle stress. Recent research suggests stress and anxiety can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
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