There's no magic at-home solution to reducing plaque from clogged arteries. But there are supplements you can take to keep blood vessels healthy overall.
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Understanding Plaque Buildup
Plaques are deposits of cholesterol, fatty substances, waste products and other materials. When plaque builds up in your arteries, serious heart problems may result. Plaque buildup thickens the arterial walls and narrows the channel that blood flows through, in turn reducing blood flow and restricting the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can be delivered to your body, according to the American Heart Association.
A buildup of plaque can eventually lead to coronary artery disease, says the Cleveland Clinic. As a result, it is important to address it as soon as it is discovered. But can it be reversed?
"A minimal amount of regression of plaque can occur in a very small number of patients," says Guy L. Mintz, MD, a cardiologist and director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York. Dr. Mintz says victory is declared when plaque ceases to progress. Stabilizing plaque is the focus.
"There is no magic elixir we can take to unclog our arteries," Dr. Mintz warns. However, there are many things you can do to improve the health of your arteries. In fact, anyone with plaque buildup — or any risk factors for heart disease, for that matter — should do everything possible to improve their cardiac risk factors, he says.
Know Your Risk
Cardiovascular risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, a history of early heart disease in parents and first-degree relatives and abnormal sleep patterns, including sleep apnea.
Characteristics that also put people at increased risk for heart disease include the following, according to Dr. Mintz:
- Inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and lupus
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Issues unique to women, including pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, early menopause and polycystic ovary disease
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Insulin resistance
Dr. Mintz adds that measures to improve your cardiac risk factors include eating (and drinking) right and "knowing your numbers" with regard to the following:
- The right amount of exercise
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugars
- Certain biomarkers, namely high sensitivity C-reactive protein and lipoprotein a
These factors can vary from person to person. Speak with your doctor to learn more about how they apply to you.
Food and Supplement Treatment Options
A question people often have is whether vitamins or supplements will work against clogged arteries. "The short answer is no," Dr. Mintz says. Medications are the mainstay of treatment.
But there are some foods and supplements that lower LDL and thereby benefit your arterial health overall. According to Harvard Health Publishing, these include oats and other whole grains, foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols, fatty fish, and fiber supplements, such as psyllium found in Metamucil.
Keep in mind that these measures are not a substitute for medical treatment for people with serious heart problems. But the good news is that there are medications that can lower cholesterol and stabilize plaque:
Statins. These are the foundation in the treatment of cholesterol, according to Dr. Mintz. Lowering cholesterol and stabilizing cholesterol plaque is the goal. Statins are also anti-inflammatory and are well tolerated. You may even be able to achieve a small amount of plaque reversal by taking statins.
Icosapent ethyl. This is a purified form of fish oil that has recently been shown to reduce triglycerides as well as stave off heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular death. The mechanism of benefit from this medication may be due to an anti-inflammatory effect, according to Dr. Mintz.
Ezetimibe. It lowers cholesterol by blocking cholesterol absorption in the small intestine.
PCSK9 injectables. These monoclonal antibodies, administered subcutaneously once or twice a month, can result in significant reduction of LDL cholesterol. They are used as an add-on to statin therapy and also taken by people who cannot tolerate statins, Dr. Mintz says.
"For patients at high risk, despite lifestyle changes, the statin medications are the anchor of therapy and have proven to be effective and safe in preventing first heart attacks and subsequent cardiovascular events in patients who have already had a heart attack," Dr. Mintz concludes.