Atherosclerosis: Causes, symptoms and dietary approaches

What causes atherosclerosis? What are its symptoms? What are its cures?Answers to all these queries and more details about Atherosclerosis, a medical condition in which the arteries harden and become narrow because of an excessive build-up of plaque inside the walls of the artery, are provided in this article.

Our arteries begin to stiffen and lose some of their elasticity, as we age. This, in turn, leads to a debilitating condition which in medical parlance is called atherosclerosis. In lay man's language, it is the hardening or sclerosis of the arteries. Fatty plaque, a thick cheesy-looking substance clogs the arteries, the hallmark, so to say, of atherosclerosis.

A certain extent of atherosclerosis is considered normal, an age-related progression. It is one of the many changes that occur within our body, unknown to us. The changes happen over a period of time and normally do not form noticeable symptoms. However, complications arise in individuals whose arteries become severely clogged with the fatty deposits, since they consequently become significantly narrow.

There can be many complications associated with atherosclerosis –

  • Circulatory disorders that hampers blood flow to the lower part of the legs and to the other extremities
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Angina, that causes chest pains because there is insufficient oxygen supply to the heart muscles

By the time men touch fifty some amount of atherosclerosis has already set in. Women are fortunate in this respect they are protected during their productive years by the presence of oestrogen. However, once menopause sets in women become as susceptible to men. And by the time women touch sixty, they are as much at risk as the men.

Understanding the underlying causes of atherosclerosis

Not all individuals above fifty are afflicted with this condition. So, what is the underlying cause behind those who suffer from atherosclerosis? Heredity seems to be one of the causes, but the main factor seems to be influenced by lifestyle. Studies indicate that individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle and have poor eating habits are more prone to the condition. The main lifestyle triggers are –

  • Smoking
  • Diet rich in fat
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Too much stress
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

It is surprising to note that in some individuals the arteries become clogged by 85%, without creating any symptoms. Nonetheless, there is still a risk of a stroke or heart attack because clots are generally formed at the place where the fatty deposits are. A majority of heart attacks happen due to a blockage in a coronary artery. This is referred to as Coronary Thrombosis in medical language. Correspondingly, when a clot blocks the blood flow to the brain it causes a stroke, which is known as Cerebral Thrombosis in medical terms.

Dietary approaches to combat atherosclerosis

Diet plays a significant role in our overall health. When it comes to atherosclerosis diet plays a vital part in both the development and the management of the condition. Research indicates that cholesterol is the major contributor to the formation of the fatty plaque and high blood cholesterol levels is an indication of the disease. Research further shows that the condition can be controlled and even reversed, by reducing the levels of blood cholesterol. A point to be noted here is that it is LDL, the Low-density lipoprotein that is dangerous.

High triglycerides levels are also responsible for the disease. These are lipids too and circulate in the blood. Individuals suffering from diabetes are generally prone to high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which makes them more vulnerable to the disease.

Reduce the amount of fat you eat

Controlling atherosclerosis through diet entails lowering the intake of fatty foods. Fat should consist no more than 30% of the calories. Of this saturated fats, intake must be no more than 10% of the calories. Saturated fats are found primarily in meats and other animal products, coconut oil and palm oils. Along with cutting down saturated fats, there must be a control over a number of hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids that are consumed. These two types of fats can result in high LDL levels. Packaged foods such as biscuits and chips and all those yummy delights that you can buy off the shelf are a storehouse of trans fats.

If you are at risk of atherosclerosis then it is best to combine a low-fat diet with exercise and takes steps to control stress levels. You can safely bring down your fat consumption to 10% of total calorie intake and eliminate saturated fats completely from the diet. Dietary cholesterol should also be reduced since it affects the total cholesterol levels in the blood. Eggs are a source of dietary cholesterol, but it is fine to eat an egg a day.

Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids

Fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are rich sources of omega3 fatty acids that have a positive effect on lowering triglycerides. Fatty fish also reduce the incidence of blood clots. Include them in your diet.

Other foods that can help

Foods have the power to heal, and foods in their natural form have the best healing properties. Eat the following foods for maximum benefits –

  • Oats
  • Legumes, lentils and whole grain products
  • Foods rich in pectin, particularly apples and pears
  • Citrus fruits
  • Psyllium husk (better known as Isabgol)

The foods mentioned have one thing in common. All of them contain soluble fibre, which is known to significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Antioxidants have magical powers

Little was known about antioxidants until quite recently. Antioxidants have suddenly become a talking point, as they are supposed to be good for the health. Researchers conclude that vitamin C & E and beta carotene are powerful antioxidants that can protect against atherosclerosis. These nutrients hinder LDL cholesterol from establishing itself into plaque on the blood vessels, that can narrow the arteries.

Soy protein is beneficial

Eating just 25 grammes of soy protein a day can lower cholesterol levels considerably. Consume soy nuggets, granules and tofu. Add soy beans into the dals that you cook. Soy flour can be combined with wheat flour. Regular consumption of soy products is known to raise High- density lipoprotein (HDL).

Lose weight and fight the disease

Lose weight to improve your chances of combating the disease. Do workouts and exercise, to maintain your ideal weight. In addition to these abstain from smoking and device methods to control stress levels.

Keep your blood sugar levels and your blood pressure in check to see significant improvement in your health.

Methods to cut down saturated fat

  • Select lean meats and remove visible fat before cooking
  • Opt for grilled or tandoori meats when eating out
  • Cut down meat consumption with the exception of fish
  • Choose your cooking mediums with care
  • Avoid butter and ghee
  • Use toned milk instead of full cream milk
  • Have a fruit after a meal, instead of eating ice cream or ghee laden mithai

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