In the medical field, clogged arteries are referred to as atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when fat, cholesterol and other substances accumulate on artery walls. The accumulation of these substances, known as plaque, can limit blood flow to the heart, brain and extremities, which can lead to heart attack, stroke and other health conditions. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids and very low in inflammation-causing foods can prevent and even help reverse atherosclerosis.
Do Away With Inflammatory Foods
Author and nutrition expert Dr. Cate Shanahan notes on her website that the traditional view of atherosclerosis is oversimplified. According to Shanahan, atherosclerosis is not simply a buildup of arterial fat; it is the accumulation of scar tissue on artery walls. Damaged arterial walls begin to accumulate plaque, which, in turn, limits blood flow. Because surgery can risk rupturing these already weakened arteries, nutrition is the ideal way to treat and prevent atherosclerosis, says Shanahan. She notes that, no matter your age, the body can heal from arterial damage. Among the most important nutritional interventions are those that limit foods that cause artery-damaging inflammation. According to a study published in 2004 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," trans fats are positively associated with systemic -- whole body -- inflammation.
Help Yourself to Heart Healthy Omega Fats
Licensed acupuncturist Chris Kresser notes on his website that cold-water fatty fish are among the best foods to help reverse atherosclerosis. Fatty fish contain high quantities of important omega-3 fats, known as EPA -- eicosapentaenoic acid -- and DHA -- docosahexaenoic acid). A 2012 paper published in "Molecular Nutrition & Food Research" notes that EPA and DHA reduce inflammation by a variety of mechanisms. The authors observe that the overall effect of these anti-inflammatory fats provides protection against atherosclerosis. Nuts are another type of food, rich in healthy fats, that can reduce a variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, notes Kresser.
Fill Up on Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes and Oats
Fruits and vegetables have a number of heart-healthy properties, as well as unique components that may be able to help reverse plaque buildup and inflammation in artery walls. Among these components are polyphenols -- a class of antioxidants -- and lesser-known glitazones, which prevent white blood cells from sticking to artery walls and causing inflammation. Legumes and oats are rich sources of soluble, viscous fiber, making them ideal for protecting the heart and keeping the arteries healthy. A study published in 2003 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that viscous dietary fiber significantly improved a key risk factor involved in the onset of atherosclerosis.
Supplements on the Side
In addition to a diet high in healthy fats and plant foods and low in trans fats, there are a number of nutritional supplements that may be helpful in clearing clogged arteries. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, B vitamins may help break down the amino acid homocysteine, high levels of which can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. For those who do not consume fatty fish, omega-3 fatty acids can also be taken in supplemental form. Although whole foods are ideal, for those who lack sufficient plant food intake, polyphenols can also be supplemented. Garlic tablets and psyllium -- a form of soluble fiber -- are two more supplements that can help prevent and reverse atherosclerosis.
- Dr. Cate: Can Arterial Disease Be Reversed?
- Chris Kresser: The Diet-Heart Myth: How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Naturally
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: The Role of Marine Omega-3 (n-3) Fatty Acids in Inflammatory Processes, Atherosclerosis and Plaque Stability
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary Fiber and Progression of Atherosclerosis: The Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study
- GMS German Medical Science: Atherosclerosis, Cholesterol, Nutrition, and Statins – A Critical Review
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Atherosclerosis
- MedlinePlus: Hardening of the Arteries
- Linus Pauling Institute: Fiber
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary Intake of Trans Fatty Acids and Systemic Inflammation in Women