Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is the leading cause of death in men over age 35 and all people over 45. Most heart attacks and strokes are due to atherosclerosis. Although the origin of this condition is not completely understood, we know that it is accelerated by factors such as high blood pressure or hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and physical inactivity.
Current theories suggest that atherosclerosis begins with injury to the lining of arteries. High blood pressure physically stresses this lining, while circulating substances such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, free radicals, and nicotine chemically damage it. While blood cells then attach to the damaged wall and take up residence. Then, for reasons that are not entirely clear, they begin to accumulate cholesterol and other fats. Platelets also latch on, releasing substances that cause the formation of fibrous tissue. The overall effect is a thickening of the artery wall called a fibrous plaque.
Over time, the thickening increases, narrowing the bore of the artery. When blockage reaches 75 to 90%, the person begins to notice angina symptoms, specifically heart pain. In the lower legs, blockage of the blood flow leads to leg pain during exercise, a condition called intermittent claudication.
Blood clots can develope on the irregular surfaces of the artery and may become detached and block downstream blood flow. Fragments of plaque can also detach. Heart attacks are generally caused by such blood clots, whereas strokes are more often caused by plaque fragments or gradual obstruction. Furthermore, atherosclerotic blood vessels are weak and can burst.
With a disease as serious and progressive as atherosclerosis, the best treatment is prevention. Conventional medical approaches focus on lifestyle changes, such as increasing aerobic exercise, reducing the consumption of saturated fats, and quitting smoking. The regular use of aspirin also appears to be quite helpful by preventing platelet attachment and blood clot formation. If necessary, drugs may be used to lower cholesterol levels or blood pressure.
Recently, conventional medicine has also begun to suggest keeping levels of homocysteine low by adding supplemental folic acid and vitamin B6 to the diet. Consult with your physician for late-breaking information regarding the ideal dose of these supplements. 

Principal natural treatments
Vitamine B6, folic acid, vitamin E, anioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene, garlic.
Lifestyle Approaches
This fact cannot be emphasized enough: The most important way to prevent atherosclerosis involves lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, increasing exercise, and adopting a diet high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and low in animal products. Olive oil and canola oil are probably among the most healthful of vegetable oils. Heating oils to high temperatures (as in fried foods) can oxidize them and make them less healthful.
It has been suggested that a high level of fish in the diet protects against atherosclerosis. However, doubt has been cast on this idea. Strangely, like beta-carotene, fish appears to be connected with a higher incidence of heart disease in smokers.
The moderate use of alcohol, and specially red wine, appears to help prevent atherosclerosis, although this is controversial as well. Coffee may slightly increase cardiovascular risk, although some studies have shown no effect when other factors, such as smoking and diets high in animal fats (often associated with coffee use), are taken into account. It has been suggested that coffee may raise homocysteine levels. Coffee probably does not have a significant effect on cholesterol levels, although this is debatable as well. 

Other Natural Treatments
Omega-3 fatty acid, aortic glycosaminoglycans.
Many herbs appear to decrease platelet stickiness, including bilberry, ginger, ginkgo, feverfew, and hawthorn. Whether this translates into an actual benefit for preventing atherosclerosis remains unknown.
Other treatments sometimes mentioned for atherosclerosis include chondroitin, astragalus, TMG, lutein, GLA, and copper, although there is little evidence as yet that they are helpful.

Putting It All Together
Little doubt exists that regular exercise and a diet high in fish and vegetables and low in animal fats can help prevent atherosclerosis. Unheated olive oil and canola oil are probably among the most healthful sources of dietary fat.
Supplemental vitamin E at a dosage around 400 IU daily probably also helps prevent atherosclerosis, and adding vitamin B6 (10 to 20 mg daily) and folic acid (400 to 800 mcg daily) are probably also helpful becase of their effects on homocysteine levels. Garlic, too, appears to be beneficial. The evidence for other herbs and supplements is promising but incomplete at present.

The information contained in this web site is strictly intended for educational purposes. It is not intended for use as a diagnostic tool, prescription or as a medical advice. Consult your physician for professional advice.
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