How to prevent artery plaque build up using natural remedies, includes Q and A with leading natural health experts.
Learn how to prevent artery plaque build up using natural remedies like herbs, supplements and a plant-based diet.
Read more about natural remedies for blood sugar levels: Controlling Blood Sugar Using Natural Remedies.
I would like to know what herbs or supplements to use to clean my artery walls of plaque. I am 49 and my cholesterol always has been slightly high. With my doctor’s guidance, I decided to go off the statin drug I have been taking for 10 years because of the negative side effects. Without the drug, my total cholesterol is 235.
Richmond, Rhode Island
Keville responds: Combining your herb and supplement regime with a low-fat diet rich in whole grains and vegetables is the place to start to clean your artery walls of plaque. Eating sufficient fiber helps your liver break down fats properly. Also, make sure your diet includes foods that are high in B vitamins, such as whole grains, to gain their protective effect on the heart.
You practically can eat your way to good health. Garlic (Allium sativum) is the best-known cholesterol-reducing herb. It is also the most widely studied. A review of 16 studies found garlic reduced cholesterol an average of 12 percent more than taking a placebo for one month. A good dose of fresh garlic is 10 to 20 grams (nearly a clove) daily. Other remedies you’ll find in your kitchen are turmeric (Curcuma longa), onions (Allium cepa) and cayenne (Capsicum annuum). Douse your food liberally with these herbs for a heart-healthy diet.
Science backs Ayurvedic medicine’s age-old suggestion of two other herbs that maintain low cholesterol. One of these, the Indian herb guggul (Commiphora mukul) was comparable in a study to the cholesterol-lowering drug clofibrate. Unlike the drug, guggul increased the good type of cholesterol, HDL. The raw herb occasionally causes a skin rash or diarrhea, but a derivative is sold as a tablet. A less common herb, but one that is available in some herb combinations, is garcinia (Garcinia cambogia). This small, yellow fruit mostly is advertised for weight loss, which is its traditional role in its native India. Studies show that it lowers cholesterol, also.
China also has its share of cholesterol-lowering herbs. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), especially a type called san qi (Panax notoginseng), and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) are the prime examples.
There are two cholesterol-lowering mushrooms that are available as supplements—shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Fresh shiitake mushrooms also are sold in the produce section of many health-food stores and some supermarkets. Eat a few several times weekly.
Vitamin E slows formation of plaque in the arteries, inhibits oxidation of cholesterol and reduces the risk of blood clots. Long-term use has been shown to decrease the chances of heart attack and stroke. Generally, 400 to 800 IU is recommended. Vitamin C seems to work with vitamin E to increase its ability to improve blood vessel health. Take 500 mg twice a day.
Khalsa responds: Atherosclerosis is the process of cholesterol buildup, along with inflammation, scarring and calcification (hardening) of the coronary arteries, which lead to heart attack from plaque rupture or arterial narrowing that causes chest pain. It is estimated conservatively that 20 to 40 percent of middle-aged Americans have early coronary atherosclerosis (silent heart disease). Having a heart attack is the way many of them find out. Sixty to 85 percent of sudden heart attacks occur, without any warning, from cholesterol plaque rupture, without previous arterial narrowing.
Three factors contribute to plaque rupture: a large pool of fat in the arterial wall; a very thin lining covering the fat; and large numbers of inflammatory cells (macrophages). Plaque rupture becomes much more likely when all three of these factors are at work. These aspects are not necessarily related to each other and none is directly related to the severity of the arterial narrowing. This explains the unpredictability and seeming randomness of this type of heart attack.
Until just a few years ago, plaque buildup was thought to be irreversible. Dean Ornish, M.D., was the pioneer in dietary- and lifestyle-based heart care. The Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program was the first to offer documented proof that heart disease can be halted, or even reversed, with lifestyle changes. He and his colleagues have published numerous papers in peer-reviewed medical journals demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes often may reverse even severe coronary heart disease. Patients lose weight while eating more, reduce or discontinue medications, and diminish chest pain.
According to Ornish, the good news is that your body can begin to remove plaque building on the walls of your coronary arteries. He claims that your body already knows how to begin healing your heart. Basically, if you eat more fat and cholesterol than your body can get rid of, it has to go somewhere. If it ends up in the arteries of your heart, it may cause a heart attack. But, he says, if you stop doing what’s causing the problem, then you allow your body’s innate healing mechanisms to begin working.
Ornish’s program includes nutritional guidelines, exercise, stress management, and love and intimacy. His “reversal diet” is designed for people with heart disease or high cholesterol. It has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease. It is a whole-foods vegetarian diet, high in complex carbohydrates, low in simple carbohydrates and very low in fat (10 percent of calories come from fat). The diet is made up primarily of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.
Recent studies of people who were put on a very low-fat diet without drugs showed that as many as 85 percent saw their heart disease either stop progressing or begin to reverse. Subjects saw improvements in arterial narrowing. The improvement was small but consistent—about 3 to 10 percent. But more important, there was a major reduction in the likelihood of heart attack, death, bypass surgery or angioplasty.
Garlic reduces blood cholesterol and also seems to reverse plaque buildup. In a German study of 152 subjects with substantial plaque buildup, using 900 mg of garlic powder a day for four years caused plaque to reduce by 2.6 percent. Plaque increased 15.6 percent in non-garlic takers.
A study from 2004 shows that garlic decisively blocks calcification in arterial plaque. An animal study conducted in Turkey found that garlic extract reduced plaque surface area, and concluded that the effect was from antioxidant activity.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is the best agent known to raise blood levels of HDL, which helps dissolve cholesterol deposits from the artery walls. Niacin generates increases in HDL by up to 30 percent at doses ranging from 1 to 1.5 grams daily. Try the “no-flush” form to eliminate the unpleasant flushing that can accompany niacin’s use.
Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association (www.ahaherb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books, including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.
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