Can arterial damage be undone?
November 14, 2008 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to undo any of the damage I've done to my arteries in 43 years of eating badly?

I grew up in the 1970s in rural England and our diet was full of animal fat, lots of vegetables and fresh stuff. However, all my life, I've been eating a lot of butter, pastry, cream, milk, etc, and I'm now wondering if there's anything I can do to restore my (probably) damaged arteries.

Cholesterol checks revealed high cholesterol, but that's coming down gradually through diet and exercise (and great advice from other answers here), and I'm now thinking that once I've got that under control whether any damage can be reversed.

A search on google just seems to lead to lots of sites advertising herbs for this but I doubt their efficacy.

And if I can't undo the damage, what's the best way forward to ensure circulatory health?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise and eat up some of those good oils. Cut down on the heavy fats, but continue eating "real" food. Don't fall into the trap of eating nothing but carbs.
posted by gjc at 7:35 AM on November 14, 2008

Has your diet been relatively balanced? I.e. have you persisted in fresh fruits and vegetables? Because arterial damage comes from over-consumption of very fatty foods (think fish and chips, processed foods, fast food), not normal, balanced consumption of home-made, high quality foods.

Put simply, have you had an actual bad diet for your whole life, or just had 'traditional' food with lots of calories in it? There's a big difference.

Also, ask a doctor. And exercise, and continue to eat a balanced diet. And ignore the Daily bloody Mail and every other tabloid screaming that porridge is going to kill you, or whatever.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:51 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am seconding the good oil. Specifically fish oil.

They sell it in capsules everywhere now. Do your homework on brands though, some are more pure than others.
posted by WickedPissah at 7:55 AM on November 14, 2008

Vitamin D, low carb diet, exercise. I've learned a lot by reading this blog written by a cardiologist who advocates lifestyle changes over drug/medical intervention.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:04 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I believe the poster is requesting that, rather than simply slowing the inevitable progress of arterial plaque to a crawl, that they reverse the trend and remove some degree of the already extant deposits of cholesterol and other "goo."

Aside from some still unapproved medications out there, the only thing I can recollect is the doubtlessly apocryphal tale of monks who fasted for the whole of Lent having relatively clean arteries. There's a since-deleted Google Answers, so you'll have to hit their cache to get it.
posted by adipocere at 8:17 AM on November 14, 2008

Your first step should be to overcome your belief that you've been damaging your arteries. You might have, but on the other hand, some very high fat diets can be very good for your heart. It depends on the types of fats, and your own physiology. Start by having a complete physical and talk to your doctor, s/he can probably recommend a good place to get started.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:54 AM on November 14, 2008

You might want to check out Dr. Dean Ornish. His specialty is helping people recover from coronery artery disease by making lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress reduction) changes. There's a video of Ornish talking at the TED conference. He has specific diet recommendations that you can find with a bit of Googling.
posted by dws at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2008

My grandfather had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, and a first heart-attack in his 50s. That heart attack was something of a wake-up-call. From then on, he was low-sodium, low-cholesterol, walking daily for exercise, and heart meds (statins, etc). This worked. He died two weeks ago, just shy of his 90th birthday, nearly 40 years after his first heart attack. True, he also had two by-pass surgeries on the way, but the anecdote of my grandfather is good evidence that poor early-life-habits in diet/exercise need not sentence you to an early death. You can mend your ways and reap the reward.
posted by u2604ab at 10:37 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's some evidence suggesting that antioxidants can reverse arterial plaque deposits; pomegranate juice is supposed to be very good for this and was recommended to my father by his doctor for this reason. Make sure you buy the real stuff (check the ingredients, if apple juice is the #1 ingredient or the label says "cocktail" on it you'll want to avoid it), or buy a concentrate. I know Pom makes a concentrate because that's what my dad drinks, he dilutes it with orange juice. If you're in a reasonably urban area, co-ops are your best bet for finding these things.
posted by baphomet at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2008

Your first step should be to overcome your belief that you've been damaging your arteries. You might have, but on the other hand, some very high fat diets can be very good for your heart. It depends on the types of fats, and your own physiology.

I agree with blue_beetle on this. It's possible that your health may be better than you think. I'm around your age, and only in recent years have I started taking steps to try to improve my health after many years of poor dietary habits. Part of what I've been doing involves rethinking some of my assumptions about what a healthy diet should look like, including the "fat-and-cholesterol cause heart disease" hypothesis.

So far, the most impressive book I've found on that subject is Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. (My edition of the book is subtitled "Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease"). I've also experimented with the Paleo Diet with encouraging results, but I'm also finding that dietary habits are deeply ingrained and can be difficult to change, so I've got a long way to go. I'm very new to all this myself, so aside from book recommendations I don't have much to offer in the way of suggestions, but I applaud your desire to improve your health and put an end to your bad habits. Good luck!
posted by velvet winter at 11:36 AM on November 14, 2008

Make Oatmeal a part of your diet.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2008

Well, stentoboy, there just might be. The HDLs you may have heard about are fat-carrying particles which are currently not carrying much fat. If you have enough of these, you'll tend to not deposit more plaque in your arteries, but whether or not you'll actually reverse damage done isn't known. You can get more of those by eating a high-protein, low fat and carb diet, and maybe that'll give your ody a chance to help itself.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:21 PM on November 14, 2008

Warning: The "Paleo Diet" link goes to an antivirus scam.
posted by PueExMachina at 4:22 PM on November 14, 2008

Warning: The "Paleo Diet" link goes to an antivirus scam.

Yikes! Sorry 'bout that. The link worked just fine for me earlier, but it seems it's been changed. Try Loren Cordain's site instead.
posted by velvet winter at 5:15 PM on November 14, 2008

Given that you grew up in a rural environment, you may not be as bad off as you're thinking. Yes, there may be some plaque, and you're probably not going to get your arteries back to where they were when you were 10 years old via lifestyle changes. Still, you are more or less healthy now, and you seem to be making the right choices so you probably don't have too much to worry about.

The good news is that there is a lot of work going on to reproduce or mimic a plaque removing mutant of a normal serum protein. So, even if you've been rougher on things than maybe you should have, stay healthy for another five or ten years and they may be able to reduce your plaque in a hurry if it's bad enough.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:59 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Latest wisdom is that high LDLs only indicate a possibility of plaque- the raw materials are there but they are not necessarily being put to use. Don't assume damage. What seems to be necessary is inflammation. This is when those LDLs start to stick. Someone with a lot of inflammation and low LDLs will most likely have a worse prognosis than someone with low inflammation and high cholesterol. If you want to have a measure of inflamation get your C-reactive protein checked.

Hawthorn berries have been shown to help lower cholesterol. You can drink a tea.
posted by pointilist at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2008

Here is the Mayo Clinic page on atherosclerosis. Stage I is fatty streak; stage II is foamy macrophage infiltration; stage III is ulceration of the atheromatous plaque.

Surprisingly, even stage II atherosclerosis (infiltration by foamy macrophages) can be reversed after several years of intensive risk modification. This finding surprised me (and many others) when it came out. The key ingredients were tight control of diabetes and hypertension (if present), and high doses of -statin medications.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:32 PM on November 29, 2008

« Older Car-free in Memphis   |   What's a reasonable fee for a web design... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.