Atherosclerosis diet: Unblocking your arteries through nutrition
September 28, 2023
6 minute read
Atherosclerosis - often referred to as "hardening of the arteries" - is a chronic condition where fatty deposits, known as plaques, build up on the inner walls of your arteries.
Over time, these plaques can narrow and stiffen the arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Fortunately, adopting some simple nutritional changes can play a significant role in managing and even preventing atherosclerosis.
Before delving into the dietary recommendations, it's important to understand the factors contributing to atherosclerosis. The primary culprits include:
High cholesterol: elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol can lead to plaque formation. This is checked with a blood test.
High blood pressure: also known as hypertension, can damage artery walls, making them more susceptible to plaque build-up.
Inflammation: chronic inflammation can trigger atherosclerosis by causing damage to artery walls and encouraging plaque formation.
Smoking: tobacco use is a significant risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Obesity: excess weight and an unbalanced diet can contribute to the development and progression of this condition.
Now, let's explore the dietary strategies to help prevent and manage atherosclerosis.
Heart-healthy fats: replace saturated fats (such as fatty meat, sausages, bacon, butter, cakes) and trans fats (such as biscuits, pizza and fried foods) with heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The healthy sources of fat include avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon and trout. These fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Fibre-rich foods: incorporate plenty of high-fibre foods into your diet, such as wholemeal options of bread and pasta, whole grains, oats, legumes, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Fibre helps lower LDL cholesterol and promotes heart health.
Antioxidant-rich foods: antioxidants help combat inflammation and oxidative stress (damage) in the arteries. All berries, citrus fruits, spinach, and dark chocolate are excellent sources.
Omega-3 fatty acids: increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Food sources include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring and sardines, flaxseeds, and walnuts are good sources.
Potassium-rich foods: foods high in potassium include bananas, oranges, sweet potatoes, and spinach, which helps regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Limit sodium: reducing sodium (aka salt) intake is crucial for managing hypertension. Avoid processed foods and use herbs and spices to flavour your meals instead of salt.
Moderate alcohol consumption: some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may have cardiovascular benefits, but excessive drinking can harm your arteries.
Maintain a healthy body shape: obesity is a significant risk factor for atherosclerosis. A balanced diet and regular physical activity can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and shape. The importance fat being evenly distributed across the body and not mainly in one area, for example the abdominal area, is essential.
Stay hydrated: drinking plenty of water is essential for overall health, including heart health. Proper hydration supports circulation and keeps your arteries functioning optimally.
Consider supplements: consult with a healthcare professional about supplements like plant sterols, which can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition, but it's not an inevitable part of ageing. Having a balanced diet and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of developing this condition and manage it effectively if already diagnosed.
It's important to address your specific needs and risk factors for heart health. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as regular exercise, stress management, and quitting smoking are equally crucial components of an overall strategy to combat atherosclerosis. With the right approach, you can take significant steps toward unblocking your arteries and preserving your heart health for years to come.
Do you have any additional questions? Get in touch with our friendly, professional pharmacy team who can offer you guidance and advice.