Arteriosclerosis. Big, scary word that means something is wrong with the heart, right? Yes, arteriosclerosis has to do with heart health, and yes, it can seem like an intimidating medical word. But it doesn’t have to be scary. We’re here to break down this health condition for you and explain what a diagnosis means for your heart and your health. We’ll also tell you how to prevent arteriosclerosis, recommended treatments, as well as the latest news from doctors working to find a way to reverse arteriosclerosis.
What Is Arteriosclerosis?
Put simply, arteriosclerosis is what happens when the arteries that carry blood away from the heart lose their flexibility and become hardened. To fully understand why arteriosclerosis occurs, you must first understand the arteries and how they function.
Arteries are blood vessels, or tubes, through which blood flows away from the heart out to various parts of the body. Normal, healthy arteries are elastic and flexible, allowing blood to flow through them easily.
Arteriosclerosis occurs when the arteries become hardened, or stiff, and blood flow can become restricted as a result of the hardening. If the flow of blood through the arteries is obstructed, then a lack of blood flow and oxygen to various organs can occur, which can lead to serious health complications like coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease can develop if the arteries that lead to the heart muscle become blocked, often resulting in heart attack or heart failure.
Types of Arteriosclerosis
The names atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are often used interchangeably even though they are not the same thing. Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis that occurs when substances like fat and cholesterol build up inside the arteries. This buildup results in narrowing of the arteries, which leads to the arteries becoming stiff and hard. Of the three types of arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis is the most common type.
Arterioles are the small parts of an artery that help blood flow from the artery to veins and throughout the body. Sometimes the walls of the arterioles can become thickened, leading to arteriosclerosis. When the walls of the arterioles become thickened, the arteries start to harden and can lead to a blockage of blood flow and damage to organs or other parts of the body.
A less common type of arteriosclerosis is Monckeberg’s arteriosclerosis, which occurs when the arteries become hardened from calcification. Calcification occurs when calcium deposits form in the middle of arteries, causing them to become stiff and rigid. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Monckeberg’s arteriosclerosis is a benign condition which does not result in blood clots or blockages in the arteries and blood vessels.
Hardening of the arteries has many determinants and often happens gradually over a long period of time. Some types of arteriosclerosis, such as atherosclerosis, can start as early as childhood. The onset of arteriosclerosis is often due to damage or injury to the arteries from instigators such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High amounts of triglycerides (fat) in the blood
- Tobacco use
Once the arteries are damaged, substances can begin to collect or clump together at the site of the damage and form fatty deposits. These fatty deposits, called plaque, are usually comprised of cholesterol and fat. As the fatty deposits clump together, they cause narrowing and hardening of the arteries.
Arteriosclerosis is a treatable condition. Treatments for arteriosclerosis may vary depending on the type that you have.
Doctors and scientists have thought for some time that certain lifestyle choices, such as a plant-based diet, may aid in the prevention or reversal of the most common type of arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis. Until recently, no non-invasive method of reversing the condition has been available. However, in May 2018, the American Heart Association reported that a possible non-invasive, non-surgical injection could be available in the future to reverse atherosclerosis. Dr. Neel A. Mansukhani of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago stated that the trial injection given to mice during research contained nanofibers which included an amino acid sequence. The amino acid sequence is a critical component of the injection as it causes the cholesterol that is responsible for the blockage to dissolve. While this injection treatment has not yet been tested on humans, it is a significant step forward in finding a non-invasive means of reversing atherosclerosis.
How to Prevent Arteriosclerosis
How to prevent arteriosclerosis comes down to making healthy lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about a family history of heart disease, but you can plan to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and quit any unhealthy habits such as smoking.
If you have certain health conditions that place you at risk for arteriosclerosis, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, talk with your doctor about ways to bring your numbers down with diet or possible medications.
A key part of maintaining healthy habits is good stress management. Sometimes, when people get stressed, they opt for “comfort” foods which are often filled with sugar and unhealthy fats. Other times, people may turn to alcohol or smoking during times of stress. If you’re experiencing a period of high stress, consider trying some of the following stress-management methods:
Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is incorporating amino acids into your diet. Amino acids offer several benefits to the body, including helping the body to form protein, muscles, tissue, and chemicals needed to function properly.
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition revealed that amino acids also offer cardiovascular benefits to women, including blood pressure reduction. Several amino acids were used in the study, and it’s always best to take a balanced mixture of all essential amino acids to make sure that the blood concentration of amino acids is optimal.