It is the underlying cause of heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
Arteriosclerosis is the clogging of the body’s arterial system. It is part of the natural ageing process and arterial wall changes have been noted in babies as young as one year old.
The inner lining of all the arteries in the body should be smooth. Anything that causes damage to this delicate layer predisposes to AS. Infections, drugs, radiation and free radicals formed from the ingestion of toxins such as pesticides, insecticides, smoking and alcohol all actively damage the arterial wall. The body automatically tries to repair this by releasing chemicals that attract platelets (a specialized type of red blood cell), scar tissue-forming cells and nutrients. Nearly every cell in the body has cholesterol as part of its cell structure and this is one of the main nutrients pulled into the damaged area. All these different components knot together to create an irregular patch in the arterial wall, which then grows by trapping other passing molecules such as cholesterol and platelets.
Arteriosclerosis is a silent condition that will not show up until occlusion of the artery creates a problem for the tissues being supplied. The buildup of debris within the artery is known as a plaque. This will finally obstruct the blood flow, cutting off oxygen and nutrients. The plaque may also become loose and travel to a more narrow part of the artery, causing the blockage at a distant point. This moving plaque is known as an embolus . The occlusion of arteries to organs such as the brain or heart can have an instant and potentially fatal effect. Occlusion to one kidney may not be fatal because the other will take over and, as another example, the blockage of part of the liver blood supply will still leave plenty of liver cells elsewhere to carry on normal function. The plaque also hardens the arteries, making them less responsive to the neurological control that governs their diameter. This ‘hardening’ of the arteries causes the blood pressure to rise, which in turn leads to a further risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease.
It is feasible that most disease conditions associated with age are caused, or contributed heavily to, by AS. A decrease in oxygen or nutrition will lead to disease and is the main cause of ‘ageing’ and its characteristics.
Assessment and investigation
Arteriosclerosis is a difficult condition to assess without being invasive. The following observations may be made to assess the level and potential risk of AS.
A pulse can be felt easily in arteries at the neck, wrist, on top of the foot and behind the inner ankle bone. Weak pulses in the feet may be indicative of a genetically poor blood flow and cannot be used to assess AS if the individual has had cold feet for most of their life. However, anyone with ‘poor circulation’, as exhibited by cold feet and hands, must be especially careful not to encourage AS.
Practitioners may often ‘roll’ their fingers backwards and forwards over the pulse in the wrist (the radial pulse) to feel the texture and tension within this superficial artery. An individual may do the same on their own pulse but a comparison is needed and because AS develops slowly this is a difficult technique to use. The harder the artery the more likely AS is involved.
Listening to blood flow (auscultation) A practitioner may place the stethoscope over the carotid arteries (beside the Adam’s apple) or over the femoral arteries (in the groin) to listen for a gentle buzz. This is known as a ‘bruit’ (French for noise) and is caused by turbulence within the artery, in turn caused by blood flowing over the roughened artery. This is similar to the gentle rumble of rapids. The louder the bruit the greater the damage.
The back of the eye is known as the fundus. A practitioner can look with an ophthalmoscope through the front of the eye and examine the blood vessels at the back of the eye. Arteriosclerosis reflects the light more brightly and damaged arterial walls will show up like two shining railway tracks either side of a central core of blood flow.
Perhaps the easiest technique of assessing AS is by examining the earlobe. Many studies have shown and correlated the development of a crease running down the earlobe. The deeper the crease, the worse the AS. The development is created by clogging of the arteries to the ear. Anybody with a crease needs to take preventive action to avoid the almost inevitable development of AS.
A blood sample can be sent to the laboratory for assessment of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. These can be correlated as mentioned below in the section on cholesterol, and a risk level obtained.
The Doppler test is a non-invasive, sound-related investigation that tells the patency of arteries .
This invasive procedure carries a small risk and should only be used as a last resort; it is also important to bear in mind that the accuracy of this investigation has been questioned. Risk factors
Cholesterol levels are the highest risk. Several factors are very relevant in AS with regard to maintaining lowered cholesterol levels. Refined sugars and all fried foods and saturated fats raise the LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Deficiencies in calcium, copper and chromium, as well as an excessive level of zinc in the bloodstream, can all create too much LDL and decrease the good HDL.
Remember that cholesterol will be drawn into any area of damage and the lower the levels of the LDL cholesterol the less likely that plaques will form. Although I discuss this in the cholesterol section, it is worth reiterating the importance of knowing whether one has good or bad cholesterol in abundance. The best measure of this is the total cholesterol: HDL ratio. This should be below 5 in males and below 4-4 in females. A high cholesterol level does not necessarily mean that an individual will have a problem.
Any compound that may cause damage to the arterial wall must be considered a toxin and removed from the diet or lifestyle. The biggest risks are smoking and free radicals. Cigarettes contain over 3,000 chemicals, any of which may be responsible for damaging the inner lining of the arterial wall. Smoking also creates free radicals along with high fat, sugar and red meat diets. Anything that stresses the liver will prevent the breakdown of toxic substances so alcohol and drugs (prescribed and those of abuse) are all liable to predispose to AS.
A special mention needs to be made of coffee. Coffee has a direct effect on the liver as well as on the cholesterol levels. It is worth noting that tea does not have the same detrimental effect and therefore it is not only the caffeine but other compounds within coffee that cause the problem. Caffeine itself may not act directly but its effect on blood pressure may exacerbate the effects of AS.
These specialized red blood cells are an important part of the blood clotting mechanism . They have a structure that allows them to adhere to damaged tissue and they also release chemicals to attract ‘healing’ compounds such as white blood cells, scar tissue-forming cells and nutrients. Platelet stickiness is increased by a lack of vitamins B6 and E, excess saturated fats or a lack of omega 3 and omega 6 oils, deficiency in the amino acid methionine (found predominantly in vegetable proteins) and deficiencies in the minerals magnesium and selenium.
Aspirin is known to decrease platelet stickiness and is therefore the orthodox world’s choice of basic prevention of AS-related diseases such as stroke and heart attacks. The use of correct diet and naturopathic supplements are, probably, more effective than aspirin and carry a low risk of side effects .
Arterial muscle condition
The arteries have muscles within their walls that contract or relax depending upon neurological and hormonal instructions. Magnesium or calcium deficiencies will lead to poor muscular control thereby making the clogging of arteries more dangerous.
Exercise increases HDL, encourages arterial dilation and thereby increases arterial patency (openness). A good exercise programme is extremely important in reducing the risks of AS.
Many studies have shown that the endorphins released through meditation and relaxation techniques reduce cholesterol levels and increase arterial patency. A good meditation and relaxation program is essential for all of us but more so with AS.
The diet controls the amount of nutrients we absorb and, as can be seen from reading the above, many components can have a direct effect on AS.
The ideal diet for those at risk of AS or those who would like to avoid this condition developing is simply a vegetarian diet with oily fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and mackerel eaten four times a week. Vegetables carry fibre which binds with cholesterol in the gut, and also contain vegetable proteins that are known to lower cholesterol levels.
Methionine is the best example. A compound called carnitine, manufactured in the liver, is made up from lysine found in lamb and poultry but is more prominent in vegetable proteins. Vitamin B6, co-enzyme Q10, beta-carotene (synthesized into vitamin A), chromium and selenium are all found along with calcium, copper and magnesium in most vegetables.
Onions, garlic and especially ginger act by decreasing platelet stickiness. The protein lecithin from soya beans binds with cholesterol in the gut and blood stream. It is worth pointing out that eggs are often criticized for having high cholesterol levels. There is a rule in nature that insists upon balance and the white of an egg contains lecithin that binds with much of the cholesterol in the yolk, rendering eggs less dangerous than advertised. An occasional egg for anyone at risk from AS is not a big problem.
The oily fish contain the ‘good’ oils omega 3 and 6, as well as eicosapentrenoic acid. Vegetarians can find these in linseed and cold-pressed olive oil.
Water is the best fluid for reducing AS risks by diluting toxins but specific treatment may be obtained from the oriental green tea. A small amount of alcohol on a daily basis may be beneficial. Do not drink particularly sweet drinks and even fruit juices may be harmful if taken in excess. One pint of juice a day is an acceptable level but should be diluted down and taken in divided doses.
FOR AVOIDANCE OF AS
Consider being assessed by a complementary medical practitioner on a yearly basis.
Consider the Ornish or Pritikin diets .
If at risk (or otherwise), consider a vegetarian diet supplemented with some oily fish and fowl. Avoid fried foods and red meat.
Consider using the macrobiotic diet .
Avoid all risk lifestyle factors such as smoking, heavy drinking, drug use and coffee.
Establish a good exercise programme.
Learn and practise a good meditation and relaxation technique.
FOR THOSE WITH AS • Follow the recommendations of avoidance above. • Discuss the matter with an experienced complementary medical practitioner. • Take the following in addition to a good diet.
The doses prescribed are per foot of height and should be taken in divided doses throughout the day with food.
Vitamin C 500mg
Vitamin E lOOiu
Vitamin B6 lOmg
Linseed oil 1 teaspoonful
Eicosapentaenoic acid lg
Ginkgo Biloba 200mg
Cysteine or N-acetyl cysteine 50mg
Zinc 5mg (taken before bed)
These dosages should be considered for six months following an AS-related event such as a heart attack or stroke and then reduced to half the amount thereafter. 1 would encourage lifelong use. • With the guidance of a oractitioner, consider the homeopathic remedy Cratageus. • Chelation therapy.