Atherosclerosis is a process in which fatty substances (cholesterol and triglycerides) are deposited in the walls of medium to large arteries, eventually leading to the blockage of that artery. Hypertension is high blood pressure. The two are rather intertwined, both are caused by diet and lifestyle, and hypertension can be caused by atherosclerosis. Both are indicated in heart attack and stroke, and both can be controlled by changes in diet and lifestyle. The health of the artery is critical to maintaining blood pressure. When the arteries become hard due to the buildup of plaque, the blood pressure rises.
Let’s take a look at how atherosclerosis develops. First, the initial step is the weakening of the layer of cells that protect the endothelial cells. This leaves the cells vulnerable to free radical damage. Damage can come from many factors such as immune, physical, mechanical, viral, chemical, or drug related. The injury to the endothelium induces it to secrete growth factor, or cause platelets to adhere. Second, once the endothelial lining is damaged, those areas are more permeable to fat carrying proteins. White blood cells attach to the endothelium and may also secrete growth factor, this is when plaque begins to form. Thirdly cells from another layer of the artery (smooth muscle cells) migrate towards the lesion, this leads to the further development of plaque. The fourth step is the formation of scar tissue, which allows blood platelets to attach themselves and secrete more potent growth factors. Finally the plaque continues to grow until the artery is blocked.
There are many risk factors involved with cardiovascular disease:
- elevated blood cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure
- physical inactivity
The risk of a heart attack increases when a person has one or more of these factors, and the more risk factors you have the higher percentage rate of having a heart attack.
These factors relate to hypertension and/or atherosclerosis
- coffee and alcohol consumption
- lack of exercise
- stress, type A personality
- high sodium to potassium ratio
- low fiber intake
- high sugar intake
- high saturated fat intake
- low essential fatty acid intake
- a diet low in calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C
- low antioxidant status
- increased platelet aggregation
- increased fibrinogen formation
- elevated levels of homocysteine
There are a lot of nutrients that can be quite beneficial in cardiovascular health:
- Vitamin E- protects against cardiovascular disease by keeping free radical levels down thus preventing them from damaging the arteries, reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (good cholesterol), inhibits platelet aggregation, and increases fibrinolytic activity
- Vitamin C- same as vitamin E, also shown to lower blood pressure, lowers total cholesterol while raising HDL (good cholesterol), inhibits platelet aggregation, being water soluble it is our first line of defense against free radicals
- Omega 3 oils- lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels and good for overall heart health, these include fish and flax seed oil
- CoQ10- lowers blood pressure, and it’s antioxidant effect is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, prevents or reverses degenerative lesions of the heart that are found in most cardiovascular disease and promote over all good heart health
- Calcium, magnesium, and potassium- low levels of these are linked with high blood pressure. Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of the entire cardiovascular system. Potassium to sodium levels are very important and I will discuss this later
- Niacin (vitamin B3)- lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Antioxidants- there are many more antioxidants than vitamin C and E, and they all play a part in cardiovascular health by reducing the free radicals that can damage the artery walls and allow plaque to build up as a result
- Carnitine- an amino acid stored in the heart that helps in energy production, it is essential to normal heart function, when oxygen levels are low in the heart, carnitine levels drop and this causes decreased energy production and increased risk of heart disease, and angina (chest pain)
Modern medicine has begun to understand that cardiovascular disease is more about sugar and processed foods than fat in the diet. Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, olive and coconut oils, and omega 3 fatty acids are always necessary in a healthy diet. What needs to be eliminated are the processed foods, fast foods and unhealthy fats (trans fats and too many omega 6 fats). Processed salt is the sodium that needs to be omitted and healthy natural salts can replace that.
Potassium levels in relation to sodium levels are very important here. Low potassium and high sodium intake has long been known to be a factor in high blood pressure. Potassium functions in the maintenance of heart function and it is recommended that sodium intake is kept low and potassium intake at least five times more than sodium intake. There are also many foods that are good for these conditions, garlic and onions, celery, nuts and seeds, cold water fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, broccoli, citrus and other foods high in antioxidants. Maintaining a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, and low in sugar and saturated fats is always recommended. I recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, quality proteins (lean meat and fish) legumes, healthy fats, and limited red meat and dairy products.
Here are some suggestions for meals.
- Oatmeal with almond milk and raisins
- Fruit and berries with plain yogurt (no sugar), add raw nuts and seeds
- Fruit smoothies with protein powder and flax seed oil
- 2 eggs scrambled with vegetables, whole grain toast
- Whole grain toast with almond butter
- Fresh juices (fruit and vegetable)
- Herbal teas (no caffeine)
Salad with dark leafy greens, and lots of different combinations of fresh raw vegetables, try different grains and nuts and seeds on top, or some fish, olive oil vinaigrette dressing with lemon juice, whole grain crackers
Homemade soups- vegetables (be sure to include celery, garlic, and onions) and lean meat or bean soup with garlic and onions and celery
Vegetable sandwich on whole grain bread (avocados, spinach, cucumber, sprouts, tomato, grated carrot are all good)
Fruit plate with almond butter (I love apples with almond butter)
Bean tostados with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and onions on top
Broiled wild caught salmon, steamed asparagus, sweet potato or wild rice pilaf
Baked chicken with squash, kale and tomato casserole, salad and a whole grain roll
Spaghetti (whole grain) with vegetable (I love spinach and mushrooms in pasta sauce) pasta sauce and bean salad
Homemade soups as before and whole grain rolls or crackers
Stir-fry vegetables (include some chard, bok choy, onion, garlic, mung bean sprouts, cabbage, and red and green peppers), tempeh with brown rice and low sodium soy sauce
Vegetable sticks with hummus
Apple and almond butter
Homemade (heart healthy) trail mix
Cantaloupe or watermelon
I always recommend exercise and frequent visits to the Chiropractor and Massage Therapist. Check out our supplements page to find all of the nutrients I have recommended here……..Happy Heart Health on this Valentine’s Day!