Health Library ~ Family Medicine in Mullica Hill, NJ

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By Craig M. Wax, DO

Atherosclerosis was formerly known as, "hardening of the arteries."  Although some used to think that it was due to aging, that is not necessarily the case. It results in stiffening of the blood vessels.  Plaques (plugging material) may accumulate in the vessels and vessel walls.  This narrows the opening for blood to pass through.  This reduces, or even cuts off, the oxygen to body tissues.  The tissues can then "cry out,"causing pain, or worse, a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or stroke (brain attack).

Many diverse factors can predispose (set up) a person to atherosclerosis.  Tobacco smoking (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, etc.) can start or worsen the disease.  Smoke toxins attack the smooth blood vessel walls to make them rough.  These rough walls attract plaque and blood clots.  Also, the carbon monoxide in smoke blocks the red blood cellís ability to carry life giving oxygen to body organs.  Quitting smoking is a must to prevent atherosclerosis.  As always, with any bad habit, it is better to never start, and less expensive!

Hypertension (high blood pressure) can also predispose a person to atherosclerosis.  The reverse is also true:  Atherosclerosis can lead to hypertension.  Diabetes Mellitus also causes blood vessel disease.

Obesity (being overweight) overloads your body systems and demands more work from the cardiovascular system.  This goes on till the heart and blood vessels can do no more to meet the demand.  Reducing your weight to normal can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis.

Family history of atherosclerosis in parents or siblings may put a person at increased risk.  Males tend to have more atherosclerosis than females.  Being of male gender is even considered a risk factor.

Sedentary lifestyle, or lack of exercise, is a risk factor.  Cardiovascular exercise daily can bring down risk, normalize your weight and reduce stress.  Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea and colas can increase stress and tension.  This and other stressors can add to a person's risk.

Antioxidants, found in vegetables, can help reduce the risk.  Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) 400-800iu daily and Viamin C (ascorbic acid) 1000mg twice a day reduce the formation of atherosclerosis.  Garlic and coenzyme Q-10 can also help.

The factors than can lead to atherosclerosis are numerous:  tobacco use, hypertension, obesity, lack of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, family history of atherosclerosis, elevated blood cholesterol, fatty diet, male gender and increased stress.

Obviously, you can not change your relatives or readily change your gender, but you can avoid unnecessary risks for atherosclerosis.  Prevention and minimizing your risk will help you achieve your best health.

Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
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