Has your doctor told you to reduce artery plaque?
Cholesterol may have a bad reputation, but the truth is that it’s a highly important organic molecule. It’s needed for the production of hormones (including testosterone), cellular walls, and bile acids. Without cholesterol, the human body would be unable to function properly. Our hormone levels would drop, our digestive system would be out of sync, and the very cells that make up our bodies would be unstable.
Cholesterol is important but in moderation. The human body only needs so much in order to function. Too much, and problems begin to set in. For example, cholesterol tends to build up on the arterial walls, where it oxidizes and hardens to plaque. Arterial plaque reduces the flexibility of the arteries, preventing them from dilating and decreasing the production of nitric oxide. This build-up of arterial plaque can have serious negative effects on your health—from heart function to reproductive health even to the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your organs, muscles, and brains.
When plaque builds up on the arterial walls, arteries become stiff, inflexible, and narrow–a condition known as atherosclerosis. It’s estimated that up to 43% of deaths in the U.S. are the direct result of atherosclerosis and plaque buildup. That’s a lot of people dying because of excessively high levels of arterial plaque.
So what can you do about it? How can you tell if you have a lot of plaque built up in your arteries? Are you in danger of developing heart problems because of arterial plaque?
The Harsh Truth About Your Cardiovascular Health
Unless you’re among the VERY healthy men and women in the country, it’s likely you have more arterial plaque than is healthy for you!
The problem with arterial plaque is that it’s a combination of a number of things. First, it’s high levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream. Second, it’s damage to the arterial walls. Third, it’s white blood cells that attack the cholesterol clinging your walls, causing them to oxidize and harden.
Here’s another huge problem with arterial plaque: you’ll never know it’s there until it’s too late. There are no symptoms of arterial plaque until pieces break off and block smaller vessels, or until the arteries are unable to dilate and constrict properly, leading to high blood pressure and a higher risk of arterial damage. By the time you can tell you have arterial plaque, it’s usually too late.
The truth is that pretty much EVERYONE in this modern day and age has arterial plaque to a certain extent. Thanks to the high trans fat and hydrogenated oil content of processed, fried, and deep-fried food, the modern man and woman are essentially guaranteed to have at least some arterial plaque.
That means you need to take steps to deal with the existing plaque, as well as prevent further build-up. However, according to the experts, plaque is incredibly difficult to get rid of. Only with medication can you get rid of the plaque already clinging to your arterial walls. All you can do naturally is find ways to prevent the plaque from continuing to build up.
How to Reduce Artery Plaque the Natural Way
If only it were as simple as “do X, X, and X”! When it comes to the cardiovascular system, nothing is ever that easy.
To get rid of arterial plaque, there are a number of things you need to do:
- Repair any damage to the arterial lining
- Protect the arterial lining from cholesterol
- Lower cholesterol and blood lipid levels
- Avoid ingesting foods that increase the production of cholesterol
Below, we’ll take a look at the four elements of naturally reducing and preventing arterial build-up…
Repair Damage to Arterial Lining
Here’s an important truth to remember: arterial plaque isn’t the fault of dietary cholesterol. Instead, the real culprit is arterial damage.
Plaque forms in arteries that have been previously damaged. Your body responds to damage by sending inflammatory cells, as the inflammation is intended to prevent further damage. If the damage is continuous, the body eventually has to use cholesterol to try to repair the damage. The cholesterol hardens and turns into arterial plaque.
The most important step toward preventing arterial plaque build-up is to stop damaging your arteries. Smoking is one of the most harmful things for your arteries, as the nicotine weakens the arterial walls and drastically increases the risk of arterial plaque. Quitting smoking is the most important first step toward healthier arteries.
But that’s not the only thing causing damage! Our modern diet is high in carbohydrates, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and chemicals our bodies are unable to process. All of these foods trigger an inflammatory response, which can lead to further damage to the arterial lining. It’s time to clean up your diet (see below) to avoid further damage to your arteries.
Once you’ve taken steps to avoid further damage, it’s time to move on to repairing any existing damage. The solution is as simple as Vitamin C!
Vitamin C is vital for the production of collagen and elastin, both of which are needed for the repair of the arterial walls and arterial lining. Giving your body more Vitamin C (through Vitamin C-rich foods and supplements) can help to speed up the repair process.
Protect the Arterial Lining
Did you know you can not only help your body repair existing damage to your arterial walls but actually protect the arterial lining from being damaged further? There are two vitamins you need to get more of in order to have healthier arteries:
Vitamin C – Vitamin C does more than just promote the repair of your arterial walls; it also acts as an antioxidant to prevent the inflammatory cells repairing your arteries from turning cholesterol into plaque. Vitamin C stops plaque from forming and keeps cholesterol in its naturally soft, fatty state. Getting more Vitamin C (via citrus fruits, spinach, broccoli, strawberries, and Vitamin C supplements) will work to reduce the oxidation of cholesterol.
Vitamin E – This is another very important vitamin, thanks to the simple fact that Vitamin E stops cholesterol from sticking to your arterial walls. Think of Vitamin E as a sort of lubricant that coats the arterial walls. The cholesterol can’t stick to the walls of the arteries, so there’s no way for it to harden and turn into plaque. Thanks to Vitamin E, the cholesterol just keeps floating in your bloodstream. Vitamin E-rich foods like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and nuts are all highly recommended for those who want to improve the health of their arteries.
Fun Fact: Did you know that your body also produces its own protection from high cholesterol levels? HDL cholesterol is a “good” cholesterol, as it collects LDL cholesterol and eliminates it—sort of like a garbage collector. But it’s more than that: it can actually pull arterial plaque and cholesterol off the walls of the arteries and get rid of the cells. Higher HDL cholesterol = better arterial health and a lower chance of plaque.
How can you raise your HDL cholesterol?
- Do more exercise. Exercise increases HDL cholesterol naturally, and in turn, lowers LDL cholesterol.
- Quit smoking. Smoking suppresses the body’s natural production of HDL cholesterol. Stop smoking, and your body will be able to naturally produce this type of good cholesterol on its own.
- Lose weight. Obesity can also prevent your body from producing enough HDL cholesterol, as well as increasing LDL cholesterol production. Get rid of excess body fat to increase the production of good cholesterol.
- Eat fish. The healthy unsaturated fatty acids in fish (also nuts, seeds, avocados, coconuts, and olive oil) will provide your body with the lipids needed to produce HDL cholesterol.
- Cut back on sugar. Sugar will suppress HDL cholesterol production while increasing LDL cholesterol. Stop eating so much refined sugar, and you’ll see your cholesterol levels balanced.
- Eat more antioxidants. Berries, red wine, dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, and citrus fruits are just a few of the antioxidant-rich foods that will increase the production of HDL cholesterol.
Increasing HDL cholesterol is the most effective way to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and reduce artery plaque buildup. Even just a slight increase (2-3%) in HDL cholesterol levels can lead to a significant decrease (8-15%) in your LDL cholesterol levels.
Do what’s right so your body can take back control of your cholesterol levels!
Lower Blood Lipid Levels
There are a lot of ways to reduce your levels of blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol), but the best thing you can do is eat right.
Below, we’ll talk about all the dangerous foods, but here I want to showcase the foods that will do the trick of lowering your blood lipid levels. We’ve got a long list for you:
- Avocadoes can both decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol
- Chia seeds are rich in fiber, which will regulate LDL and HDL cholesterol
- Asparagus delivers Vitamins B1 and B2, C, E, and K, and will reduce the risk of blood clots
- Cranberries are one of the best sources of Vitamin C, as well as antioxidants to balance cholesterol levels
- Cinnamon can clear up arterial plaque and lower cholesterol
- Spinach, kale, arugula, and chard are all great foods for folate to clear out your arteries
- Flax seeds are an amazing source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which will clear out arterial blockages
- Broccoli provides Vitamin K to prevent the cholesterol from hardening into plaque
- Spirulina regulates blood lipid levels
- Orange juice is a great way to get more Vitamin C in your diet, as well as reduce arterial inflammation
- Coffee provides antioxidants to prevent the buildup of plaque
- Turmeric reduces inflammation and stops plaque from forming
- Pomegranates are loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants that will prevent plaque formation
- Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, and oats) are rich in fiber and can help to clear out cholesterol
Avoid High-Cholesterol Foods
Let’s be clear: foods with lots of dietary cholesterol aren’t the same as foods that increase cholesterol production. Eggs, for example, contain a lot of cholesterol, but they won’t raise your cholesterol levels.
For decades, saturated fat was perceived as being a high-cholesterol food. No longer! Now, science has proven that saturated fat will only raise cholesterol if you eat in crazy quantities—like two huge steaks at every meal!
The truth is that dietary cholesterol (cholesterol in the food you eat) won’t affect your arteries anywhere near as much as the cholesterol produced by your liver. What increases the production of cholesterol from your liver? Trans fats, hydrogenated oils, sugar, simple carbs, and artificial ingredients.
These five villains are the real reason you have high cholesterol levels. Trans fats and hydrogenated oils are naturally converted into cholesterol because your liver has no way of turning them into stored energy. Simple carbs and refined sugars are digested so quickly your body has to turn them into fat cells to be stored. Artificial ingredients are also unable to be processed by the liver, so your liver surrounds them with fat cells in order to protect your body.
As a result of these five foods, your cholesterol is probably fairly high. Keep eating a diet rich in these foods, and it will keep getting higher—and the arterial plaque will get worse.
On the flip side, AVOID any foods that contain trans fats, hydrogenated oils, refined sugars, simple carbs, and artificial ingredients, and you can lower your cholesterol levels effectively.
Note: Don’t overdo it on saturated fats! They may not be directly linked to cholesterol production, but they’re high in calories and fats and will still increase blood lipid levels if consumed in excess.
There may be no way to naturally deal with existing plaque (the medication route is the only truly effective option), but that doesn’t mean you can’t PREVENT more plaque from building up. The four steps above will be the solution to keeping your arteries clear and healthy for years to come!