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Deadly Atherosclerosis: How to prevent it

Atherosclerosis is a disease process that can lead to the obstruction of coronary blood flow. As a result, the electrical properties of the heart and its inability to function as a pump may be seriously compromised. Abnormal cardiac rhythms (arrhythmias), can be detected by abnormal electrocardiograms.

Atherosclerosis is the most common form of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and, through its contribution to heart disease and stroke, is responsible for about 50% of the deaths in the United States [and seems to be increasing].

In atherosclerosis, localized plaques, or atheromas, protrude into the lumen of the artery and thus reduce blood flow. The atheromas additionally serve as sites for thrombus (blood clot) formation, which can further occlude the blood supply to an organ.

It is currently believed that atheromas begin as “fatty streaks,” which are gray-white areas that protrude into the lumen of arteries, particularly at arterial branch points. These are universally present in the aorta and coronary arteries by the age of 10, but progress to more advanced at different rates in different people.

As this progression occurs, smooth muscle cells and others fill with lipids [fats] to give a “foamy cell” appearance. Later damage to the endothelial lining of the artery [believed to be a vitamin A and essential fatty acid deficiency by nutritionists] causes blood platelets to adhere to subendothelial tissue. Platelets are believed to release chemicals that cause smooth muscle cells to proliferate and migrate from the tunica media to the intima, resulting in a tumor-like growth.

The intercellular space of the atheroma later becomes filled with lipids and cholesterol crystals, and then is hardened by deposites of calcium. …It is currently believed that an intact and properly functioning endothelium protects against atherosclerosis.*

Causes

There is good evidence that high blood cholesterol is associated with an increase risk of atherosclerosis. This high blood cholesterol can be produced by a diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fat, or it may be the result of an inherited condition known as family hypercholesteremia [from a heterozygous dominant gene].*

*Source: Human Physiology, fourth edition, Fox, Stuart Ira. 1993. Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Oxford England.

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