Arteriosclerosis - what causes it and how to prevent it

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Arteriosclerosis is the result of the healing process as a result of the lining of arteries being damaged. The result is a scar over the site of the damage which could cause:

  • Narrowing of the artery (and so impaired blood supply distally). Possible symptoms include angina (heart), intermittent claudication (legs), dementia (brain).
  • Scar rupture with a clot forming on the surfaces which embolises to cause acute blockage downstream (myocardial infarction), acute gangrene (legs), stroke (brain).
  • Weakening of the artery wall - aneurysm
  • Breakage of the arterial wall - stroke
Thus arteriosclerosis is a major cause of disability and death in Western Societies. Indeed, arteriosclerosis is an inevitable result of Western lifestyles with their reliance on a highly refined carbohydrate diet, poor micronutrient status, increasing pollution of the environment including prescription medication, lack of sunshine and exercise, and chronic lack of sleep.


Arteriosclerosis - checking for risk factors

From the patient's medical history (in order of importance)

  • Age - with age one can stay just as fit and well, but one has to work harder at it!
  • Smoking is obviously a major risk factor.
  • Industrial pollution - this is now a major cause of arteriosclerosis. See the work of Dr Dick Van Steenis and Michael Ryan at Country Doctor.
  • Western diet - high in refined carbohydrates, high in dairy products, micronutrient-deficient and polluted by food additives and pesticides. The Stone Age Diet is highly protective against arterial disease. Western diets result in diabetes and high blood-pressure, both of which are major risk factors for arteriosclerosis.
  • Addictions in diet - to sugar, coca cola, caffeine etc.
  • Lack of sunshine - vitamin D is highly protective against arterial disease.
  • The Pill and HRT.
  • High-stress living.
  • Addictive drugs.
  • Alcohol consumption of more that 2 units a day for men, fewer for women.
  • Not sleeping well.
  • Not exercising.
  • Not taking nutritional supplements.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Being apple-shaped (as opposed to pear-shaped). This is symptomatic of immune activity in the gut (food allergy or fermenting gut) resulting in low-grade inflammation, often followed by damage to blood vessels.
  • Dental amalgam fillings.
  • Family history of arterial disease - if positive then you need to work hard to find and reduce risk factors.
  • High levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL) compared to "good" cholesterol. (HDL)
  • Conditions associated with inflammation.

To diagnose arteriosclerosis

  • Do not wait for the consequence! Do not wait until you have a heart attack or stroke!
  • Can you get fit? If not, this may be because of poor blood supply secondary to arteriosclerosis.
  • Are you at risk? See above factors.
  • Look at the flow in arteries using Doppler techniques.
  • Look at how much calcium is present in arteries - coronary calcium score. See LIFESCAN. This is non-invasive.
  • Radiographic techniques (invasive) such as angiograms

Measurements

  • Blood pressure - most people get "white coat hypertension". If this is suspected, buy yourself an idiot-proof home measurement cuff. See Blood pressure
  • Body mass index - a high BMI is often a symptom of carbohydrate addiction, but could be caused by underactive thyroid.

Try increasing your exercise. If you are unable to do so, then this could point to arterial disease.

Urine tests

  • Sugar and protein - ask for multistix urinalysis.

Blood tests

  • ESR, creatinine protein or plasma viscosity - these indicate inflammation in the blood which may damage arteries.
  • TFTs - hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism are both risk factors for arterial disease.
  • Homocysteine - raised levels are a potent risk factor.
  • Magnesium deficiency - a good indirect test of mitochondrial function.
  • Chromium deficiency.
  • Increased clotting tendency - anticardiolipin antibodies.
  • Serum B12 levels.
  • Antioxidant status - GSHPx (Se), SODase (Cn, Mn, Zn), CoQ10.
  • High uric acid and high gamma GT are both symptoms of poor antioxidant status.
  • Cholesterol and triglycerides - blood should be taken with the patient fasting (no food for 12 hours previously). Raised cholesterol may be a sign of heart disease, not a cause. See Cholesterol - the common causes of raised levels.

I would test for these things routinely. The homocysteine test is a bit awkward because the blood has to be centrifuged immediately after it's been taken; otherwise the result is invalidated. Therefore, special arrangements need to be made. I.e. you need to go to a hospital or laboratory where this can be done.

Infections - if the history suggested, I would do breath testing for helicobacter pylori, ELIZA antibodies for chlamydia.

Magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidant status, EFAs

  • Magnesium deficiency is a common cause of arterial disease. Treatment of such with intravenous magnesium is a very powerful treatment. See the science in Dr Browne's paper on i.v.i. magnesium in the Journal of Nutritional Medicine
  • B vitamin deficiency (especially thiamine). Thiamine deficiency alone can cause heart failure, common in heavy drinkers, pantothenic acid.
  • Antioxidant deficiency (vitamins A, E, C and selenium)
  • Essential fatty acid deficiency.

These things can all be tested for, but I would not do the tests routinely as long as my patient was taking nutritional supplements regularly - ie a multivitamin, multimineral, vitamin C and essential fatty acids. If you won't take the supplements, do the tests to convince yourself that you should take the supplements! See Nutritional Supplements To my mind, this is a far better way of spending your money than on medical insurance!

Apolipoprotein A - this is known to be a risk factor, but no-one is very sure how to treat it; so there's not much point in measuring it.

Pollution either from toxins such as:

  • Pesticides - measure fat pesticide levels. This will pick up a range of POPs (persistent organic pollutants) such as organophosphates, organochlorines, fire retardants etc. OR DNA adducts.
  • Heavy metals - no simple test because these are often sequestered away in tissues. Hair sample, blood sample, sweat or Kelmer test.
  • Fine dusts (PM2.5 and under) from polluting industry such as power stations, manufacturing industry - indeed, anything with a chimney is a potential risk. At present, it would be expensive for industry to clean up its act; so the facts are either fudged or covered up. There are no tests for dusts.

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References


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