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Alternative Medicine and Atherosclerosis

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis (also known as arteriosclerosis) is a disease marked by the buildup of fatty plaques on in the insides of your arteries. This plaque buildup is sometimes referred to as "clogged arteries" or "hardening of the arteries."

As plaque accumulates and hardens over time, it can narrow your arteries and restrict the blood flow to your heart (as well as other parts of the body). Clogged arteries may result in heart attack, stroke, or even death. Atherosclerosis may also lead to a number of serious diseases, including coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, and peripheral arterial disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis often produces no signs or symptoms until blood flow becomes blocked and results in a medical emergency. However, in cases of reduced blood flow to the heart, individuals may experience angina (chest pain that occurs when your heart isn't receiving enough blood), shortness of breath, and/or irregular heartbeats.

Causes of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances accumulate in the walls of the arteries. The following factors may increase your risk for this condition:

Treatment and Prevention of Atherosclerosis

In cases of severe atherosclerosis, certain medical procedures (such as angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting) may be necessary. However, in many cases, the following lifestyle changes are recommended as treatment for atherosclerosis:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • getting regular exercise
  • keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check
  • smoking cessation
  • reducing stress

All of these strategies are also considered useful in preventing atherosclerosis.

Alternative Medicine and Atherosclerosis

If you're seeking to manage atherosclerosis with any type of alternative therapy, make sure to consult your physician before beginning treatment. It's also important to tell your doctor if you develop any new symptoms, or if your symptoms worsen.

Although little is known about the use of alternative medicine in the treatment of atherosclerosis, studies suggest that the following natural substances and therapies may be helpful for people looking to manage this disease.

1) Yoga

A 2005 review of 70 previously published studies indicates that yoga may fight oxidative stress, a process thought to be involved in the development of atherosclerosis. What's more, a 2000 study of 42 atherosclerosis patients found that practicing yoga slowed the disease's progression and improved the participants' risk factors profiles.

2) Hawthorn

An herbal remedy said to boost heart health, hawthorn was found to reduce levels of blood fats and aid in the prevention of atherosclerosis in an animal study published in 2009.

3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

In a small study published in 2009, researchers concluded that taking 200 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) can help shield the heart from atherosclerosis (as well as aging-related cardiovascular damage and diabetes).

Available in supplement form, docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA) is also found naturally in oily fish like salmon and mackerel.

Sources:

Guillot N, Caillet E, Laville M, Calzada C, Lagarde M, Véricel E. "Increasing intakes of the long-chain omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid: effects on platelet functions and redox status in healthy men." FASEB J. 2009 23(9):2909-16.

Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG. "Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review." The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 2005 18(6):491-519.

Manchanda SC, Narang R, Reddy KS, Sachdeva U, Prabhakaran D, Dharmanand S, Rajani M, Bijlani R. "Retardation of coronary atherosclerosis with yoga lifestyle intervention." J Assoc Physicians India. 2000 48(7):687-94.

Xu H, Xu HE, Ryan D. "A study of the comparative effects of hawthorn fruit compound and simvastatin on lowering blood lipid levels." Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(5):903-8.

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