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Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, a common disease of the major blood vessels characterized by fatty streaks along the vessel walls and by deposits of cholesterol and calcium.
Atherosclerosis of arteries supplying the heart is called coronary artery disease. It can restrict the flow of blood to the heart, which often triggers heart attacks—the leading cause of death in Americans and Europeans. Atherosclerosis of arteries supplying the legs causes a condition called intermittent claudication, which is characterized by pain in the legs after walking short distances.
People with elevated cholesterol levels are much more likely to have atherosclerosis than people with low cholesterol levels. Many important nutritional approaches to protecting against atherosclerosis are aimed at lowering serum cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis is typically a silent disease until one of the many late-stage vascular manifestations intervenes. Some people with atherosclerosis may experience angina (chest pain) or intermittent claudication (leg cramps and pain) on exertion. Symptoms such as these develop gradually as the disease progresses.
Virtually all doctors acknowledge the abundant evidence that smoking is directly linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.1Quitting smoking protects many people from atherosclerosis and heart disease, and is a critical step in the process of disease prevention.2, 3
Obesity,4 type A behavior (time conscious, impatient, and aggressive), stress,5 and sedentary lifestyle6 are all associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis; interventions designed to change these risk factors are linked to protection from this condition.7
Aggressive verbal or physical responses when angry have been consistently related to coronary atherosclerosis in numerous studies.8, 9, 10 A low level of social support, especially when combined with a high level of outwardly expressed anger has also been associated with accelerated progression of coronary atherosclerosis.11
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.