Coronary artery disease and other heart diseases collectively are the leading cause of death in the US. It’s commonly caused by clogged arteries. So can a plant-based diet unclog arteries?
There’s mounting evidence about a plant-based diet promoting heart health, but can it also unclog arteries? There’s promising research, if not conclusive, that indicates that some plant-based foods may just be able to unclog the arteries.
If your arteries are clogged, you’re at a high risk of getting a heart attack or stroke. Lifestyle changes go a long way in preventing those deadly complications. Switching to a plant-based diet and exercising often may just prevent further unclogging at least.
How do Arteries Get Clogged?
The arteries in your body get clogged when plaque sticks to their walls from the inside. This plaque inside the arteries is called arterial plague.
The circulatory system of the body is made arteries, blood vessels, and capillaries that carry blood to different parts of your body. These arteries are also responsible for carrying oxygen to the organs, so you can imagine how important their role is in the proper functioning of the body.
Sometimes these arteries get blocked when certain substances (plaque) stick to the walls and block the flow of blood. The plaque is made up of several substances, including cholesterol. So high cholesterol in your blood is usually the main cause behind clogged arteries.
The blockage reduces the flow of blood. The clearer and open the arteries are, the better the blood and oxygen flow is. Sometimes the clogging can increase so much that it blocks the entire artery. Similarly, the plaque can come off in the form of a clot and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Clogged arteries can also lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, which involves narrowing and stiffening of the arteries.
Signs of Clogged Arteries
In many cases, it may be hard to tell if you have clogged arteries until something major happens, such as a heart attack. This is why it’s important to keep an eye out for signs, in order to prevent further damage.
You may not see some of these signs until an artery is 70% blocked. Here are the signs to watch out for:
- Chest pain (angina)
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Lower back pain
- Erectile Dysfunction
Causes Behind Clogged Arteries
The underlying cause behind clogged arteries is the build-up of plaque. Now, this plaque develops as a result of damage to the inner artery walls. There are several causes behind that:
High cholesterol or bad cholesterol (LDL) is the main culprit behind blocked arteries. Lack of good cholesterol (HDL), which is responsible for removing LDL, can also be a reason.
High levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol usually result from a poor diet, rich in saturated fats.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is also associated with clogged arteries. In fact, it can speed up the clogging, and also result in hardening of the artery walls.
Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, especially coronary heart disease. Even those who have pre- diabetes are at risk of developing arterial plaque.
Being obese is linked with all the major risk factors of clogged arteries and the consequent diseases associated with them. Obese individuals’ diets may be rich in fat and sugar, both of which pose a threat to heart health and arteries.
Cigarette smoke can exacerbate the stiffening of arteries, making it easy for arteries to get clogged. Cigarette smoke can also impact the aorta, which is the largest artery in your body.
Normally, arteries get narrow as you age. However, this phenomenon does not pose any threat until after middle age.
Disease Caused By Clogged Arteries
Clogged arteries can lead to serious medical conditions. It depends on where the clogged arteries are in the body. Most commonly, it results in three conditions:
Coronary artery disease (CAD): Coronary artery diseases is the most common heart disease caused by a blockage in arteries carrying blood to the hearts. This is the condition that usually leads to a heart attack and is very deadly.
Carotid artery disease: This type of disease is caused by a blockage in carotid arteries that are responsible for supplying oxygen to the brain. The plaque in these arteries leads to a stroke.
Peripheral artery disease: This disease results from a build-up of plaque in blood vessels in your legs. The supply of oxygen to muscles in the legs reduces, and as a result, the legs and feet may experience pain and numbness.
Can a Plant-based Diet Unclog Arteries?
Unclogging arteries with lifestyle changes has been debated for a long time. Some experts say that it’s virtually impossible to remove the plaque that has built up in the arteries. Others, mostly the proponents of plant-based diets argue that arteries can, in fact, be cleared.
Both groups agree that a plant-based diet can prevent further damage. So if your arteries are clogged, your best chance at survival and avoiding deadly complications is switching to a plant-based diet.
There’s some evidence that a plant-based diet can effectively clear clogged arteries. The best example in this regard is Dr. Dean Ornish’s program. This program focuses on reversing heart diseases through lifestyle changes only.
In a study conducted by Dr. Ornish himself, the participants showed a reduction in plaque in just one year of following his program. Keep in mind that this plaque was built over the years, and a plant-based diet, along with exercise, managed to reduce it in just one year.
A lot of the participants with severely clogged arteries avoided bypass surgery and angioplasty. This program that relies on a whole-food plant-based diet shows that this type of diet can clear up blocked arteries in the body, effectively reversing the conditions caused by them.
Plant-based Diet Lowers High Cholesterol
High levels of LDL or bad cholesterol are the main cause of plaque in the arteries. A plant-based diet has the potential to lower not only bad cholesterol but also enhance good cholesterol, which ultimately removes LDL from the bloodstream.
This type of diet only contains good fats that don’t raise cholesterol. As a result, it’s good for people with arterial plaque. Not only will it prevent further clogging of arteries, but it may also reduce the plaque by lowering cholesterol.
Dietary fiber plays an important role in lowering cholesterol. As this study from the American Journal of Epidemiology confirms, fiber significantly reduces LDL in the body. So you should be consuming more plant-based foods rich in fiber to clear up the clogged arteries.
Preventing Endothelial Dysfunction
Endothelial dysfunction is what leads to peripheral artery disease as you age. Earlier it was thought that artery function reduces with age, which is inevitable. However, research has shown that a plant-based diet can improve artery function well into your 60’s.
In this video at NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger explains the effect of a plant-based diet on improving artery function. He emphasizes on increased consumption of vegetables and fruits in the Chines population, which shows strong artery function even after turning 60.
He also talks about fish impairing endothelial function, which is widely believed to improve artery function. Apparently, the longer you’ve been eating a vegetarian diet, the better the arterial function gets.
Which Plant-based Foods Unclog Arteries?
There are many plant-based foods that have proven benefits against artery-clogging. It’s usually foods rich in fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants that are good for the arteries and the heart.
Avocado is rich in potassium, which is considered good for vascular calcification. It also plays a vital role in increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol. Even though it’s rich in fat, it’s only the good kind of fat.
Olive oil has proven benefits when it comes to heart health, so it can also be good for clearing clogged arteries. The key component in olive oil is monosaturated oleic acid, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Extra virgin olive is the best type for someone with clogged arteries. You can use it in so many ways, but keep a check on the quantity as it’s also high calorie.
Is there anything that broccoli cannot do? This cruciferous vegetable is great for your heart health. Studies have also shown that these vegetables can also clear up clogged arteries. If you don’t particularly like broccoli, you can go for other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, arugula, or bok choy.
When your artery walls get a plaque, the body’s immune system attacks it, which can result in inflammation around that area of the artery. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory spice that reduces the inflammation in arterial walls.
An animal study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology confirmed that turmeric reduces fat deposits in the arteries by as much as 25 percent.
Of course, fiber is absolutely essential for someone with clogged arteries. And what can offer you high amounts of fiber? Whole grains!
Not only will it make your artery walls thinner, but they also reduce the overall risk of heart disease. That’s how good fiber is. It’s particularly beneficial if you have carotid artery disease.
You should add more oats, barley, and quinoa in your diet. Instead of white rice and white bread, switch to brown rice and whole-wheat bread, respectively.
Pomegranate is a great fruit when it comes to heart health, especially your arteries and blood vessels. It’s good for patients with clogged arteries, hypertension, or any other heart disease.
It’s high in nitric oxide, which can improve epithelial cells in the blood vessels. Also, it has many antioxidants that prevent cell damage from free radicals in the body.
Whether or not you’re a heart patient, nuts are an essential part of your diet. However, if you have a heart condition or clogged arteries, eating nuts regularly can be very beneficial.
For clearing your arteries, go for nuts rich in magnesium, like Brazilian nuts, almonds, and cashews. The reason why magnesium is important is that it will slow or stop the build-up of cholesterol.
Vinegar can improve endothelial function. In other words, it can dilate arteries and prevent clogging, according to NutritionFacts.org. It does so by boosting the enzyme that synthesizes nitric oxide. The good news is that this applies to a variety of vinegar.
Can You Reverse Coronary Artery Disease?
Can a plant-based diet unclog arteries? Yes, it has the potential to do so. But can it reverse coronary artery disease completely? Also, yes.
This article, over at Harvard Health Publishing, discusses what we have already covered in this post. With the right lifestyle changes, it’s very much possible to unclog arteries and reverse coronary artery disease.
This article also mentions Dean Ornish’s revolutionary work, which is evidence of a plant-based diet reversing heart disease like coronary artery disease.
It’s also important to mention exercise when we talk about clearing clogged arteries and reversing heart conditions. Physical activity is an important part of lifestyle changes. In fact, less physical activity also leads to worsening of such conditions.
So not only should you switch to a whole-food plant-based diet, but also try to stay more active. If you commit to these lifestyle changes, you can reverse coronary artery disease successfully.
Heart health is extremely important for long and fulfilling life. Even if you’re young, it’s important to take preventive measures and ensure that your heart stays healthy. This means avoiding high cholesterol and all those other risk factors that clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
So can a plant-based diet unclog arteries and improve the artery function? Yes, it will take some time and a lot of commitment, but you will see changes.
For those who have been diagnosed with clogged arteries, making the change is even more important. You don’t want to rely on medications and gamble your health away with side-effects. A plant-based diet is the best route to take to clear those blocked arteries.
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