A heart-healthy diet that focuses on lowering cholesterol can also help strengthen blood vessels, reports a 1998 article in "American Family Physician." This type of diet emphasizes foods such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish, monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, and soluble fiber from beans, vegetables and whole grains. You can take this diet a step further and choose from a variety of other foods that contribute to strong blood vessels.
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Blood Vessel Basics
The way to keep your blood vessels strong is to keep the endothelium healthy. The endothelium is the layer of cells that lines the inside of your blood vessels. This lining fills vital roles, from maintaining the tone of vessel walls to regulating immune and inflammatory responses. The endothelium helps modulate blood flow and forms an anticoagulant barrier, which contains blood yet allows it to flow without clotting. A damaged endothelium triggers medical problems such as hardening of the arteries.
Foods That Increase Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide relaxes muscles in blood vessel walls, which makes it easier for blood to flow and lowers your blood pressure. It also stops blood cells from sticking together. As a result, nitric oxide helps prevent blood clots and protects vessel walls by keeping them strong and flexible. You’ll increase the amount of nitric oxide in your system by eating foods that contain nitrate and the amino acids arginine and citrulline because your body uses them to make nitric oxide. You'll get nitrates from beets and green leafy vegetables, while watermelon is the best choice for citrulline. Fish, lean meat, fresh vegetables, garlic and whole grains provide arginine.
Foods High in Antioxicants
Antioxidant flavonoids in blueberries improved blood vessel functioning in healthy men, reported a study in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” in November 2013. Flavonoids in dark chocolate promote endothelial health and reduce vessel stiffness, according to a report in a study in the “British Journal of Nutrition” in February 2014. You'll get similar flavonoids from grapes, apples and other berries. Vitamin E is another antioxidant to include in your diet. It protects lipoproteins from damage by molecules called free radicals. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through your blood and release the cholesterol when they're damaged, which harms the blood vessel. The best sources of vitamin E include almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, avocado, sunflower oil and safflower oil.
Foods That Decrease Homocysteine
Folate, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 have one job in common: They help reduce the amount of homocysteine in your blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid your body converts into other beneficial substances, but this only happens when these B vitamins are available. Without folate, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12, levels of homocysteine increase, which causes problems for your blood vessels. Homocysteine can damage the endothelium and increase the risk of blood clots, according to FamilyDoctor.org. You can get all three from fortified cereals and grains. Otherwise, green leafy vegetables are packed with folate, vitamin B-6 is found in bananas, potatoes and chicken, and vitamin B-12 comes from animal products.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Family Physician: Dietary Therapy for Preventing and Treating Coronary Artery Disease
- International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology: Cells in Focus: Endothelial Cell
- DermnetNZ.org: Nitric Oxide
- Neogenesis Labs: Beets and Dietary Nitrates: Nitric Oxide Activation From Food
- Journal of Chromatography: Determination of Citrulline in Watermelon Rind
- University of Southern California: How Nitric Oxide Maintains Health
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E
- Linus Pauling Institute: Flavonoids
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Intake and Time Dependence of Blueberry Flavonoid-Induced Improvements in Vascular Function: A Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind, Crossover Intervention Study With Mechanistic Insights Into Biological Activity
- British Journal of Nutrition: Effects of Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Consumption on Endothelial Function and Arterial Stiffness in Overweight Adults
- FamilyDoctor.org: Coronary Artery Disease: High Homocysteine Level: How It Affects Your Blood Vessels