If laid out in one continuous line, the vessels in our body’s circulatory system (arteries and veins included) would stretch approximately 12,000 miles. That’s a lot of mileage to be concerned with when thinking about arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
While veins deliver de-oxygenated blood back to the lungs, arteries and their smaller version, arterioles, bring life-giving oxygenated blood to all parts of our body. In a pristine state, our arteries are flexible and have elasticity to them. However, lifestyle and poor diet can, over time, decrease this elasticity and hardening begins to occur. Why is this a problem? The ability of an artery to relax and expand in response to changes in blood flow is a sign of an artery with a healthy inner lining (endothelium). When flexibility begins to disappear, arteriosclerosis begins to appear.
Many conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess salt intake, can have an effect on your arteries. Encouragingly, most causes of arteriosclerosis are within our ability to reverse. Proper nutritional choices and exercise can go a long way in helping to stop the process if your health care professional determines that you are living with arteriosclerosis.
Read on to find out more about the definition of arteriosclerosis, symptoms of arteriosclerosis, the difference between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis, causes and treatment for arteriosclerosis and how to prevent arteriosclerosis in your life.
DEFINITION OF ARTERIOSCLEROSIS
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body. Healthy arteries are flexible, strong and elastic. Over time, however, too much pressure in your arteries can make the walls thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. This process is called arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. 1
ARTERIO vs ATHERO
Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis, but the terms are often used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of fats in and on your artery walls (plaques), which can restrict blood flow. These plaques can also burst, causing a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in your body. Atherosclerosis is a preventable and treatable condition. 2
SYMPTOMS OF ATHEROSCLEROSIS
There are very rarely any significant symptoms or signs that something is wrong until the artery has become extremely narrowed and the blood flow is severely restricted.
On rare occasions, there may be signs that this disease is taking hold but this usually depends on which artery, or arteries, are affected.
If your coronary arteries are affected (the ones that supply oxygenated blood to your heart), a common symptom is angina; severe pain/pressure in the chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back, often accompanied by a choking feeling. This pain can also be spasmodic. Sometimes, emotional stress can trigger this pain.
You may start to notice shortness of breath that doesn’t subside or that occurs in the absence of other strenuous activities.
You may notice abnormal heart rhythms called arhythmia.
If the heart’s smallest arteries are involved, it may be a condition called coronary microvascular disease (MVD) which will bring with it symptoms of sleep disturbances, fatigue, and lack of energy.
These are the arteries which are responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to your brain. If these arteries begin to become blocked, you could experience the same signs and symptoms of a stroke.
Plaque can also build up in the major arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the legs, arms, and pelvis. When this happens, it’s called peripheral arterial disease. If these major arteries are narrowed or blocked, it can lead to numbness, pain, and sometimes, serious infections. 3
CAUSES OF ARTERIOSCLEROSIS
At this point in time, the exact cause of arteriosclerosis/atherosclerosis is not known. It could begin as early as childhood. There are certain factors that increase your risk of developing this disease:
- A diet high in unhealthy fats and excess sodium.
- Excess cholesterol in your blood.
- High blood pressure.
- Hyperglycemia (excess blood sugar) due to insulin resistance or diabetes.
Because our bodies are such miraculous machines, they instinctively know when a problem occurs and rush to fix it. This fix can actually become responsible for the progression of arteriosclerosis/atherosclerosis. Plaque begins to build up around the injured area of the artery, narrowing it and slowing blood flow. If a section of plaque breaks open or comes loose, a blood clot can form and narrow the artery or travel to another part of the body and cause a stroke.
TREATMENTS FOR AND PREVENTION OF ARTERIOSCLEROSIS
Once diagnosed, your health care professional will likely advise you on how to switch up your eating plan and exercise routine. If the problem is advanced enough, your health care professional may also suggest prescription medications that can slow, or sometimes even reverse, the disease. The following will, almost certainly, be advised:
- Stop smoking. Smoking damages your arteries.
- Regular exercise at least 5 days per week – exercise trains your muscles to use the oxygen in your body more efficiently, improves circulation and promotes the development of new blood vessels that can form a natural bypass around obstructions. 4
- Change your diet to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and less saturated fats. This will help keep your weight at a healthy level.
- Restrict your alcohol intake.
- Read the nutrition labels on food – this can help you make an educated choice on which foods to include in your new eating plan.
- Lower your blood pressure by lowering your sodium intake and staying calm! Managing your stress level is important. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, which is never a good thing for your arteries.
- Lower your cholesterol level.
- Manage your diabetes effectively.
Working with a team of health care professionals such as a family doctor, a dietician, a personal trainer to get your exercise routine back on track, or even a biofeedback coach to get your stress levels under control, will give you the information and support you need to take things one step at a time and put you back on the road to your very best health!
NUTTER’S CAN SUGGET…
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3. National Heart Lung and Blood Institiute, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
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