While the common prevailing thought about what causes plaque in the arteries and subsequent cardiovascular events (heart attack or stroke) is that cholesterol is the culprit, this is inaccurate. Many studies show that most people who suffer a cardiovascular event have normal cholesterol at the time of the event.
The real cause of plaque development in the arteries is damage to the arteries from chemical processes, mainly excessive oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical alteration that involves the removal of an electron from a molecule or the addition of oxygen. While it is a natural chemical reaction in cells, under certain conditions – when the wrong molecule is affected or when it happens in excess, it may damage structures, such as the arteries and adversely affect their function.
A real-life example of this is the development of rust on metal from exposure to water (H20), whereby the metal exposed to water over a long period of time becomes corroded, it weakens and loses its strength. A similar thing happens to the arteries with excess oxidation. The natural response of the body is to try to repair and heal the damage by replacing the damaged artery components with healthy ones. This is much like what happens when skin is damaged by a laceration. Damaged tissue is replaced with healthy skin tissue. In the meantime a scab is formed to protect and seal the area and when the area heals the scab sloughs off. Plaque, in a way, is similar to a scab. Incidentally, the kind of cholesterol found at the site of plaque, isn’t regular cholesterol (an important substance for human health) but rather oxidized cholesterol.
Some of the most common causes of damaging oxidation include smoking cigarettes, the polyunsaturated fatty acids found most commonly in vegetable oil, various environmental toxins and excess iron. Other than avoiding cigarettes, vegetable oil and minimize exposure to toxins what can you do? After all heart disease is the most common cause of death even in those who don’t smoke.
The good news is that the body has anti-oxidant defense systems. These systems help capture and remove or repurpose excess electrons that otherwise would cause oxidative damage.
Another important molecule that helps neutralize oxidizing agents is a small molecule called glutathione. It consists of the amino acid glutamine, glycine and cysteine. It also requires vitamin C, E and selenium for its preservation.
The third system is the superoxide dismutase system which consists of an enzyme by the same name and the minerals copper, zinc or manganese.
Optimizing intake of the nutrients, especially of the vitamins and minerals I mentioned, can help protect and repair the arteries as to prevent a heart attack and a stroke.Some of these nutrients, namely vitamins C, E and copper have been shown in various studies to improve arterial health.
Look for food high in these nutrients. If signs of heart disease already exist (high blood pressure, known blockages) ask your health practitioner to guide you in choosing a supplement with sufficiently high doses of these nutrients.