When we think of clogged arteries, we think of the elderly or the obese, but the truth is that plaque begins forming as early as 10 years of age. This doesn’t mean that every 10 year old is walking around with partially-clogged arteries, but it does mean that those calcium molecules have begun sticking cholesterol deposits on your coronary arteries.
From age 10 on the plaque deposits grow, which often leads to a myriad of health problems. Now that you know how dangerous clogged arteries can be, let’s start at the beginning.
Arteries: What Are They?
Arteries are just blood vessels which carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Blood is pumped to your brain, heart, muscles and even your toes. They are a very important part of a functioning body.
When arteries are healthy blood flows easily through them because the inner walls are smooth and facilitate blood flow. When they are less than healthy, that is to say when they are clogged due to plaque buildup, the blood flow slows down. In the worse cases of arterial clogging the path of the blood is completely blocked, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or death.
As you can see plaque can be a serious problem–regardless of age–and knowing what causes plaque and how to prevent or treat it can save your life.
It can be difficult to take steps to treat or prevent a clogged artery if you have no idea what things you currently do that contribute to plaque buildup. The substances that form the plaque that clog the arteries come from the substances that flow through the blood. This includes substances like cholesterol, fibrin (responsible for blood clotting), calcium and fat.
It becomes a vicious cycle really, because plaque on the arterial walls causes those cells to reproduce and secrete even more clogging substances that simply clog the arteries even further. When the plaque deposits grow the arteries will shrink and begin to harden, which is a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Although we don’t know much about what situation prompts atherosclerosis, we do know that most instances involve some form of arterial wall damage, which allows the plaque to deposit more effectively. Common factors found among those with atherosclerosis include:
- High blood pressure increases the rate that plaque builds in the arteries. Furthermore it is believed that high blood pressure contributes to the hardening of arteries.
- Inconsistent cholesterol levels also contribute because they have a symbiotic relationship within the body. Good cholesterol, HDL, can remove much of the bad cholesterol (LDL), from the plaque inside clogged up arteries. This can mitigate the plaque formation caused by bad cholesterol. When HDL is too low it is unable to transport the LDL to the liver for elimination.
- Smoking increases the narrowing and hardening of the arteries in the heart, the legs and even the aorta.
Stop Plaque Development
As we’ve already discussed, plaque buildup often begins during childhood and sometimes during adolescence but the clogging usually doesn’t happen until later in life when lifelong habits and lifestyle choices begin playing a larger role in overall health.
Before you need to worry about treatments that include bypass surgery, a stent placement or drugs to treat cholesterol and high blood pressure, you should focus on prevention. A few easy ways to stop plaque from clogging your arteries include:
- Quitting smoking or never starting in the first place. Even if smoking isn’t the cause, it contributes to other causes such as high blood pressure.
- Regular exercise to keep your blood flowing effectively.
- Eating a diet that is very low in bad fats and sufficient in lean fats.
- Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress through exercise, yoga, Pilates or sex.
- Maintain a healthy body weight, as obesity can contribute to many of the causes of arterial clogging.
It is up to you how much plaque builds up in your arteries. As they say an ounce of prevention…