March 16, 2015

Atherosclerosis – Part 5

Lifestyle changes can help you prevent or slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking damages your arteries. If you smoke or use tobacco in any form, quitting is the best way to halt the progression of atherosclerosis and reduce your risk of complications.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Regular exercise can condition your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. Physical activity can also improve circulation and promote development of new blood vessels that form a natural bypass around obstructions (collateral vessels). Exercise helps lower blood pressure and reduces your risk of diabetes. It is always suggested that your doctor approve any exercise regimen if you have not been a participant in regular exercise.
Ideally, you should exercise 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. If you can't fit it all into one session, try breaking it up into 10-minute intervals. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk around the block during your lunch hour, or do some situps or pushups while watching television.
  • Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet based on fruits, vegetables, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, can help you control your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Try substituting whole-grain bread in place of white bread; grabbing an apple, a banana, or carrot sticks as a snack; and reading nutrition labels as a guide to controlling the amount of salt and fat you eat. I am not promoting whole grains like the source does and I do not believe cholesterol reduction improves atherosclerosis. Those of us with diabetes will need to limit or eliminate whole grains. We also need to be careful of carbohydrate-laden fruits, like bananas, and certain vegetables, as carrots are sources of carbohydrates.
  • Lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, losing as few as 5 to 10 pounds (about 2.3 to 4.5 kilograms) can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two of the major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. Losing weight helps reduce your risk of diabetes or control your condition if you already have diabetes.
  • Manage stress. Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy techniques for managing stress, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
  • Tightly manage your diabetes. While this may not be a lifestyle change, it is necessary to prevent more damage to your arteries and minimize atherosclerosis.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or another chronic disease, work with your heart doctor to manage the condition and promote overall health.

It's thought that some foods and herbal supplements can help reduce your high cholesterol level and high blood pressure, two major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. With your doctor's OK, consider these supplements and products:
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Artichoke
  • Barley
  • Blond psyllium (found in seed husk and products such as Metamucil)
  • Calcium
  • Cocoa
  • Cod liver oil
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Garlic
  • Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Sitostanol (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Benecol) and be sure that the margarines have no transfats.
Warning – Talk to your heart doctor before adding any of these supplements to your atherosclerosis treatment. Some supplements can interact with medications, causing harmful side effects.
You can also practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing, to help you relax and reduce your stress level. These practices can temporarily reduce your blood pressure, reducing your risk of developing atherosclerosis.

The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended to treat atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Tightly managing diabetes
Just remember to make changes one step at a time, and keep in mind what lifestyle changes are manageable for you in the long run. While lifestyle changes does not include tightly managing diabetes, this is necessary to prevent atherosclerosis.

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