Ways to Prevent and Decrease Atherosclerosis

February is Heart Health Month! So what better time to talk about heart health than today? Based on Statistics Canada, Cardiovascular disease is the number 2 cause of death in Canada, after cancer, for both  men and women. 

The heart is constantly pumping throughout your life, allowing the various parts of your body to get the nutrients and oxygen it needs, but also allowing the circulating blood to transport the waste products to be excreted. One of the key things that affects the heart is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is caused when plaques clinging to the insides of the  arteries, causing the flow of blood to be restricted. These plaques are caused when fat sticks to the side of the arteries; this fat can then bind to other things found in the blood, as well as calcium, making them hard. As a result of the narrowing of these arteries, the amount of nutrition and oxygen getting to different parts of the body decreases (depending on where the plaque is). Also, when parts of this plaque break off, it can cause heart attacks and strokes by blocking off supply in the heart or the brain. So the question becomes: how can I prevent or reverse atherosclerosis? 

Pomegranate juice - is full of antioxidants, and minerals. There have been a few studies suggesting that it has anti-atherogenic abilities, allowing it to help break down plaques and decrease or prevent them from forming (Hamoud). It is also able to help decrease blood pressure, which is a known cardiovascular risk factor. Pomegranate extract was shown to decrease diastolic blood pressure (Stockton).

Fish oils - can help change your cholesterol ratio by increasing HDL and decreasing LDL - which is what you want. The HDL is able to transport LDL to the liver, and therefore prevent the LDL from becoming older and causing oxidative stress on the body. When LDL becomes oxidized, it becomes dangerous; and the body, being so smart, tries to isolate the LDL. So different parts of the blood will bind to it to try to prevent it from causing harm, but as a result, it becomes a plaque. Taking fish oils, will help shift this ratio and allow you to have more HDL, helping your body be in less oxidative stress by moving the LDL to where it needs to go. Fish oils are also have anti-inflammatory effects - especially Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) (Mori); that's why when you purchase your fish oils, you should make sure that it has a high EPA:DHA ratio. Due to these effects of fish oil, it is able to improve cardiovascular health (Zeng; Saber). 

Exercise - is another great way to increase HDL cholesterol, and decrease weight. It also helps regulate your glucose levels, decrease blood pressure, and allow your hear to become more efficient (it is a muscle after all), by making it stronger it improves heart function. Glucose is very reactive when it is not being regulated; unregulated high glucose can cause various organs to become damaged - including the heart. So being able to regulate glucose through other means, such as exercise, allows you to help your body regulate it. 

Eat more vegetables and fruits - gives your body the needed building blocks needed to help keep your body healthy (Zhang). They are also rich in fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, allowing your body to have access to what it needs and use the antioxidants to prevent the oxidization of certain things like LDL cholesterol. Having a healthy diet will also help decrease body weight, and therefore have less central adipose tissue, which is harmful to the body and organs. The one diet that gets the most publicity is the Mediterranean Diet (Rosato). The Mediterranean Diet includes a high intake of vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and oils (nuts and olive oil). Olive oil has been found to decrease atherosclerosis by acting as an anti-inflammatory, and decreasing inflammatory biomarkers (Wongwarawipat).

~ Dr. Charmagne