Cru­cial Changes for Bet­ter Blood Flow

Alternative Medicine - - Condition Spotlight -

rav­age cell struc­tures, pro­teins, and DNA—ul­ti­mately lead­ing to a whole host of dis­eases, in­clud­ing atheroscle­ro­sis.

When un­sta­ble free rad­i­cals meet with LDL choles­terol in the lin­ing of your ar­ter­ies, they cause a re­ac­tion called lipid per­ox­i­da­tion. Spe­cial­ized white blood cells—called macrophage­s—are called to the scene by neigh­bor­ing vas­cu­lar cells that rec­og­nize this new pres­ence of ox­i­dized LDL as a threat. Th­ese macrophage­s have so-called scav­enger re­cep­tors that help them seek out pathogens and gob­ble them up to pre­vent them from do­ing fur­ther harm to your body.

Un­for­tu­nately, this de­fense mech­a­nism is no match for the large amounts of ox­i­dized LDL present in cases of atheroscle­ro­sis—the macrophage­s con­tinue to in­gest, form­ing fat-laden “foam cells.” Even­tu­ally, they will be­come so full that they burst, re­leas­ing ox­i­dized LDL back into the ar­te­rial wall and trig­ger­ing the in­flam­ma­tory cascade all over again.

In time, this cy­cle of in­flam­ma­tion in­tro­duces other el­e­ments of the im­mune sys­tem into the mix—in­clud­ing T-lym­pho­cytes and platelets—all of which build up to­gether to form ar­te­rial plaque. A fi­brous cap forms over this plaque, cre­at­ing a le­sion called an atheroma, which in turn causes the artery to harden. Un­for­tu­nately, this stage is only the be­gin­ning—in fact, athero­mata can be found in most peo­ple as early as child­hood.

For­tu­nately, there are steps that you can take to min­i­mize the risk and symp­toms as­so­ci­ated with PAD—as well as your risk of coro­nary artery dis­ease and other car­dio­vas­cu­lar threats. The risk fac­tors of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, such as smok­ing, al­co­hol con­sump­tion, a diet high in sat­u­rated fat and choles­terol, seden­tary life­style, obe­sity, glu­cose in­tol­er­ance and di­a­betes, and high salt in­take have been ex­ten­sively stud­ied as con­trib­u­tors to the vas­cu­lar dis­eases of the heart, brain, and pe­riph­eral cir­cu­la­tion. Luck­ily, a num­ber of life­style op­tions may avert the con­di­tion: main­tain­ing a healthy body weight, mod­er­at­ing con­sump­tion of al­co­hol, ex­er­cis­ing, re­duc­ing sodium in­take, re­duc­ing stress, and al­ter­ing in­take of cal­cium, mag­ne­sium, and potas­sium.

The first and most ob­vi­ous step is to shed ex­cess weight through ex­er­cise and by adopt­ing a heart-healthy diet, with heavy con­sump­tion of an­tiox­i­dant-rich fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles—be sure to eat or­ganic as of­ten as pos­si­ble be­cause pes­ti­cides will only in­tro­duce ag­gra­vat­ing tox­ins into your body. Mod­er­ate in­take of high-fiber whole grains that are low on the glycemic in­dex scale is also im­por­tant, along with lean pro­tein sources, like chicken, turkey, and fish. (Note that you'll want to be­ware of ex­cess mer­cury con­tent in the lat­ter.)

Other heart-healthy snacks in­clude seeds and nuts and even small amounts of an­tiox­i­dant-rich dark choco­late. Drink­ing red wine (in mod­er­a­tion) and green tea are also ex­cel­lent ways to pro­tect your heart.

Last, although fats should be limited in­so­far as they con­trib­ute to obe­sity, it's more im­por­tant that you choose “good” fats as op­posed to “bad” fats. The sat­u­rated and trans fats that you'll find in red meat, but­ter, and most fast foods are more likely to clog ar­ter­ies than un­sat­u­rated choices are, such as olive oil and fish oil—the lat­ter of which can ac­tu­ally boost your heart health by im­prov­ing your LDL/HDL ra­tio and sooth­ing in­flam­ma­tion. And as I men­tioned be­fore, re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion is vi­tal.

There's no ques­tion that stress re­duc­tion is es­sen­tial to that goal—and the best way to achieve this is al­ways a mat­ter of per­sonal taste. Choose any ac­tiv­ity that ap­peals to you most, whether it's mu­sic, art, or a calm­ing ac­tiv­ity like med­i­ta­tion, yoga, or t'ai chi. Ex­er­cise is also a fan­tas­tic stress re­liever, and sim­ply walk­ing reg­u­larly can help you to stay fit while re­lax­ing your mind.

Un­for­tu­nately, the symp­toms of PAD pose a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem in this re­gard. And, as you may al­ready know, pe­riph­eral atheroscle­ro­sis can make any type of ex­er­cise—even leisurely walk­ing—into a painful and un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. The tech­ni­cal term for this type of cramp­ing is called “in­ter­mit­tent clau­di­ca­tion”—and you may find that you can only make it one or two blocks be­fore you're un­able to con­tinue walk­ing.

There's no doubt about the im­pact that this type of con­di­tion can have on both your health and your qual­ity of life, and restor­ing your mo­bil­ity of­ten re­quires more than sim­ply al­ter­ing your di­etary habits. But main­stream treat­ments that ad­dress the spe­cific symp­toms of PAD are rare—only one drug, Cilosta­zol, is avail­able for cases of in­ter­mit­tent clau­di­ca­tion, and its side ef­fects in­clude headache, di­ar­rhea, and heart pal­pi­ta­tions.

To me, this does not make for a so­lu­tion—at least, not a very good one.

Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, is a li­censed acupunc­tur­ist, physi­cian, and home­opath, has an MS in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, and has done grad­u­ate stud­ies in her­bol­ogy. Visit him on­line at

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