As your heart beats, it pumps precious blood through a network of blood vessels called arteries. These arteries are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of your body. The blood contains nutrients and oxygen. You can imagine what would happen if your arteries couldn’t perform this function properly. Below are some practical tips you can follow to have healthier arteries.
Stop being too sweet…in the food you eat. Excess sugar in your body is converted to glycogen and stored in your liver. Unfortunately, the amount of glycogen stored has a limit. The excess sugar then goes somewhere else. It’s converted to triglycerides and stored in adipose (fat) tissue. Excess triglycerides in your blood damage your arteries. It is still unclear how triglycerides cause arterial damage, but one hypothesis is that they may deposit in your arterial walls and help in the formation of plaques which negatively affects blood flow.
Fight atherosclerosis with antioxidant-rich foods. Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterised by the deposition and accumulation of fatty material in the inner walls of your arteries. These fatty materials decrease the amount of blood flow to your vital organs. They also make your arteries less pliable. Several studies have revealed that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants reduced the development and progression of atherosclerosis. Antioxidants fight inflammation and oxidative stress that ultimately lead to atherosclerosis. Remember to choose fruits and vegetables from all the colours of the rainbow. You can even make your own table of vegetables and fruits based on rainbow colours. Below is our example:
Fruits and Vegetables
Specific Antioxidants Present (other than vitamins)
Cherries, strawberries, red currants, tomatoes
Carrots, pumpkin, squash, oranges, corn, and sweet potatoes
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids
Cucumber, celery, kale, kiwifruit, asparagus, avocados, limes, and green beans
Phytochemicals like saponins, indoles, and carotenoids
Blackberries, blueberries, plums, eggplants, asparagus (yes, there are purple ones), and beetroot
Ginger, garlic, bananas, onions, dates, and cauliflower
Phytochemicals like allicin (in garlic) and beta-carotene
Let’s not forget that these fruits and vegetables also contain other macro- and micronutrients in addition to antioxidants. If you’re not a big fan of fruits and vegetables, you might like to try dark chocolate and pecans. They’re also high in antioxidants.
End the forbidden relationship between your arteries and damaged fats (and oils). Your heart needs blood too you know. It has its own set of arteries called coronary arteries. These coronary arteries have a special affinity for damaged fats and oils. By-products of these oils can accumulate in your coronary arteries and lead to coronary artery disease (CAD). Most damaged and refined oils are plant oils which include commercial cooking oils (such as corn, soy, safflower, canola). Commercial cooking oils are also notorious for having trans- fats and they’re loaded with omega-6 fatty acids which promote inflammation. All of which is bad for your coronary arteries!
Aim for the following unrefined healthy fats; extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, butter, and ghee (ideally from grassfed cows). These are also lower in omega-6 fatty acids than commercial plant oils. Always tip the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to the omega-3 fatty acid side. If you don’t eat fish often, supplementing with high quality DHA and EPA essential fatty acids from fish, krill or algae oil is a great way to boost your omega-3s and support a healthy inflammatory response in your body.
Increase blood flow through your arteries with arginine. Arginine is an amino acid that transforms into nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter that tells your arteries to relax and ease up. When this happens, blood flow increases, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to various cells, tissues, and organs in your body. In essence, your arteries become less sticky, less stiff, and less narrow. Older adults with CAD benefit most from dietary or supplemental arginine. This is partly because nitric oxide production declines as you get older. Foods rich in arginine include turkey, chicken, pork (loin), peanuts, spirulina, and dairy. Arginine supplements are also widely available.
The walls of your arteries contain a special type of complex protein called collagen. Collagen maintains the strength and elasticity of the arterial walls. More importantly, research has found that collagen helps prevent plaque rupture in your coronary arteries. Plaque rupture can lead you to have a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction). A shout out to vitamin C as it’s responsible for promoting the production of collagen in your body and it’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect your arteries from free radicals.
Root for rutin. In a recent research study involving pigs, rutin was discovered to prevent CAD. Rutin is a flavonoid compound that has an antioxidant effect and suppresses the production of molecules which promote damage and inflammation in your arteries. Numerous studies are being conducted to validate its effectiveness in humans. Rutin is found in abundance in oranges, grapefruit, plums, cherries, apricots, grapes, and buckwheat.
Fight homocysteine with folate. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which when elevated has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Homocysteines nemesis, folate, counteracts its negative effects by assisting in the prevention of plaque formation and decreasing oxidative stress. As such, folate supplementation has been recommended for people with CAD. Fortunately, nobody has to wait to develop CAD. You can start supplementing with folate right away or simply increase your daily intake of dark leafy greens. If you buy a folate supplement, we recommend looking for the active form, methylfolate (not folic acid), as its the most easily used by your body.
Produce more nitric oxide through regular exercise. The key term here is ‘regular’. Exercise stimulates the cells lining the inner walls of your arteries to produce more nitric oxide thereby increasing blood flow. Research in mice has also added that exercise stimulates your bone marrow to produce substances that repair damaged arterial walls. So, whether you aim for more than 10,000 steps per day or 30 to 45 minutes of brisk walking, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be producing more nitric acid in your system.
Let’s summarise, shall we? The SIMPLE art of having healthier arteries means more antioxidant-rich foods, foods abundant in rutin, supplementation with arginine, vitamin C, omega-3s and folate, and regular exercise. Avoid excess sugar and damaged fats and oils. See? Having healthier arteries IS just that simple.