Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the US and is responsible for at least 43 percent of all deaths. Unfortunately, it is often referred to as the silent killer because the first sign for many is a fatal heart attack or stroke.
Any discussion about preventing heart disease would be incomplete without a focus on healthy arteries. Healthy arteries expand and contract with each heartbeat. As we age, these soft and flexible arteries can stiffen and loose flexibility.
The term ‘hardening of the arteries” describes loss of elasticity and the associated obstructed blood flow. This loss of arterial elasticity is an important predictor of heart attack and stroke as well as a contributing factor in dementia.
Factors that contribute to arterial stiffness include inflammation, glycation, calcification, hypertension and poor blood glucose control. These factors cause fat, cholesterol, and other substances to build up in the artery walls and form hard structures called plaques. As a result, protection against coronary artery disease can be achieved via control of lipids, glucose, and pro-inflammatory factors.
In arterial disease, the process begins with damage to the endothelium, which is the lining of artery walls. In response to this injury, white blood cells, along with lipids (fats), begin to accumulate along the inner layer of the artery. These fats and white blood cells begin to oxidize (become rancid) and build up in the artery walls, forming plaques. These plaques begin to harden and bulge inward, and then grow larger. Even then, there are no symptoms until the narrowing reaches 70 percent. If the plaque is disturbed or bursts, blood platelets can accumulate at the site and form a clot, which can grow until it completely blocks an artery and cuts off the oxygen supply to the heart, brain, or other body part.
Pieces of plaque can also break off and move to smaller blood vessels, blocking them. If the clot completely blocks the blood and oxygen supply to a major artery leading to the heart, the tissue begins to die within minutes. A heart attack ensues. If an artery to the brain is blocked the result is a stroke. Atherosclerosis that affects the arteries in the arms, legs or pelvis is called peripheral artery disease.
If you are older than 20 and have been eating the typical western diet, the chances that atherosclerosis has begun is very high. While there are many risk factors, as mentioned above, the underlying cause of coronary artery disease, and many other chronic diseases, is inflammation. High blood levels of a protein called C-reactive protein are indicative of inflammation.
Historically, a diet high in cholesterol was blamed as the cause. However, this view is far too simplistic as the body does not simply take ingested cholesterol and deposit it in arteries. In fact, cholesterol from food has little to no effect on our levels of blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is only dangerous when it has been oxidized by factors like smoking, excessive alcohol, poor diet, and an inactive lifestyle.
Nutrient deficiencies like zinc and copper or imbalances in the calcium/magnesium ratio and elevated calcium levels can be associated with deposits of calcium deposits in artery walls and weakening of arteries.
Heavy metal toxicity like cadmium (usually from smoking) can weaken arterial walls. Many other toxins interfere with cholesterol chemistry and contribute to hardening of the arteries. These include phthalates in soft plastics that leach out into food and water and damage the cells ability to properly metabolize cholesterol. Others include Teflon in pans, mercury from fish and dental fillings and numerous industrial chemicals.
This is why it is so important to educate yourself on diet and the nutrients required to build strong and flexible arteries and learn to avoid and detoxify from toxic substances that damage the body. Vitopia Health is dedicated to helping you educate yourself about the biochemistry of chronic disease based on the most current scientific studies.
We encourage you to watch for our upcoming webinar on creating healthy arteries, where we will discuss arterial health in greater detail along with dietary, supplement and prescription approaches.
If you would like to be notified about these upcoming programs, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mike Woodley, R.Ph., FAARM, ABAAHP
Chief Health Officer