5 Ways to Unclog Your Arteries, Including Dietary Changes and Statins
Plaque is a sticky substance that forms in the walls of the arteries and deprives the heart of oxygen-rich blood and other organs. It's a major health concern and here's why. Arteries play a vital role in keeping the body alive by delivering much needed nutrients, hormones and oxygen to the cells, tissues and organs. So when they're restricted and can't effectively do their job of distributing what your body needs, your overall well-being is in jeopardy.
Clogged arteries is a common condition called atherosclerosis and is the main cause of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading killer in the United States. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute "About half of Americans between ages 45 and 84 have atherosclerosis and don't know it." Clogged arteries can affect several parts of your body and the NHLBI says, "Atherosclerosis can affect most of the arteries in the body, including arteries in the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis, and kidneys. It has different names based on which arteries are affected."
Believe it or not, plaque can start building up in your arteries at a young age. "By the time many people reach their 20s, blockages that disrupt the flow of blood already exist within their arteries," Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says. Lifestyle choices and family history are contributing factors for clogged arteries, and while there are ways to help unblock arteries without surgery, prevention is the best method to staying healthy. Jayne Morgan, M.D. Cardiologist and the Clinical Director of the Covid Task Force at the Piedmont Hospital/Healthcare in Atlanta, GA tells us, "There is no magic bullet or pill to undo the damage once it has been done to your arteries and they have developed plaque to block the blood flow yet. We're working on it. Still, the best therapy is prevention."
What to Know About Clogged Arteries
The American Heart Association says, "Where plaque develops, and the type of artery affected, varies with each person. Plaque may partially or totally block blood flow through large- or medium-sized arteries in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys. This can lead to conditions such as:
- Coronary heart disease (plaque in arteries in or leading to the heart)
- Angina (chest pain from reduced blood flow to the heart muscle)
- Carotid artery disease (plaque in neck arteries supplying blood to the brain)
- Peripheral artery disease, or PAD (plaque in arteries of the extremities, especially the legs)
- Chronic kidney disease"
Joseph T. McGinn, Jr., M.D., chief of cardiac surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute tells us, "It's important for people to understand the causes of clogged arteries, which are a family history of the condition, diabetes, high blood pressure, diet and smoking. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. We all struggle to do the right thing. Most of the time, we know what the right thing is, but we don't do it. However, any tolerable modification we can make can go a long way in maintaining heart health, especially for those with a family history. It's also important to emphasize that the advent of statins (or cholesterol-lowering drugs) play a major role in halting the process of clogged arteries. It's important to consult with your primary care provider or cardiologist to see if your risk factors for heart disease make you a good candidate for statin therapy."
Signs You Have Clogged Arteries
Dr. McGinn explains, "One third of patients find out they have a blockage by having a heart attack. The next most common symptom is angina or chest pain. Angina occurs if an area of your heart doesn't get enough blood, which is often due to a clogged artery. Angina is often a warning sign of a heart attack; if experiencing chest pain that doesn't go away, seek medical attention immediately."
The Cleveland Clinic says, "Some conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, don't have symptoms. You may not notice your arteries getting stiffer or clogging with plaque (cholesterol and fat) that collects over time.
These problems make it harder for blood to move through your arteries, and can lead to narrow or blocked arteries.
Symptoms of artery conditions include:
- Chest pain.
- Heart attack.
- Numbness or pain in your legs and arms.
- Shortness of breath.
- Belly pain.
Plaque Poses a Double Threat
The AHS says, "Plaque itself can pose a risk. A piece of plaque can break off and be carried by the bloodstream until it gets stuck. And plaque that narrows an artery may lead to a blood clot (thrombus) that sticks to the blood vessel's inner wall. In either case, the artery can be blocked, cutting off blood flow. If the blocked artery supplies the heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke occurs.
If an artery supplying oxygen to the extremities (often the legs) is blocked, gangrene, or tissue death, can result. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) involves plaque buildup in arterial walls which includes conditions such as acute coronary syndrome and peripheral artery disease, and can cause a heart attack, stable or unstable angina, stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or aortic aneurysm."
How to Unclog Your Arteries
Dr. McGinn says, "Proper medical therapy can halt the process, but unfortunately not reverse it. Blockages can be either stented or bypassed. Stents are used to keep an artery from getting too narrow or blocked. It involves inserting a small tube into the artery to keep it open after moving plaque out of the way. This allows the blood to move through more easily. An arterial bypass treats your narrowed arteries by creating a new pathway around a section of the artery that is blocked, using a blood vessel from another part of the body or a synthetic vessel. An arterial bypass is highly effective and lasts a long time. Stenting, in many situations, is equally effective."
The National Health Service says, "There are not currently any treatments that can reverse atherosclerosis, but the healthy lifestyle changes suggested above may help stop it getting worse. Sometimes additional treatment to reduce the risk of problems like heart attacks and strokes may also be recommended, such as:
–Statins for high cholesterol
–Medicines for high blood pressure
–Medicines to reduce the risk of blood clots – such as low-dose aspirin or clopidogrel
–Dietary changes and medication for diabetes
–A procedure to widen or bypass an affected artery – such as a coronary angioplasty –A coronary artery bypass graft or a carotid endarterectomy"
How to Help Prevent Clogged Arteries
Dr. Morgan explains, "Plaques in the coronary arteries, or atherosclerosis can be mitigated and improved by following a healthy diet rich in leafy green vegetables and other vegetables and fruits, limiting processed foods high in sugar and saturated fats, avoiding fast food, being strict about diabetes as this disease alone can significantly contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. If your cholesterol is high, take your meds to lower your lipids, and keep a healthy weight, avoiding obesity." Dr. McGinn emphasizes, "You can improve your health by maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, controlling your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes, quit smoking and avoid all tobacco or nicotine products."
John Hopkins Medicine says, "You can prevent or delay atherosclerosis by reducing risk factors. This includes adopting a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, losing weight, being physically active, and not smoking can help reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, skinless chicken, seafood, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. A healthy diet also limits sodium, refined sugars and grains, and solid fats. If you are at risk for atherosclerosis because of family history, or high cholesterol, it is important that you take medicines as directed by your healthcare provider."