Cholesterol Buildup in the Arteries – What’s It All About?
Does dietary fat really equal cholesterol buildup in our arteries? The short answer to that question is “no”. Here’s the long answer. In the 1950s, researchers found that a major ingredient of the plaque in arteries was cholesterol, and assumed it was settling there because it was part of our diet. Now it seems that cholesterol only builds up inside blood vessels if they are damaged. Believe it or not, your body is using cholesterol as a bandage to repair broken areas in the cardiovascular system!
So, what damages our vessels? High blood pressure plays a large part. Imagine the plumbing inside your home. What if water pressure was extremely high in the system? Pipes would begin to burst, especially at junction points. That’s exactly what happens in our bodies. When pressure is high, our arteries become strained, particularly in high-stress areas such as right around the heart and in places where vessels bend.
Another major cause of arterial injury is smoking. The chemicals in tobacco smoke cause blood vessels to constrict, inducing pressure increases. They also produce inflammation in every part of the body. This includes our arterial linings.
Diabetes plays a role as well. Excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream with this condition because it can’t be deposited into cells. This free-roaming sugar wreaks havoc in the body, causing irritation, contributing to blood vessel damage, and encouraging blood clots.
No matter the cause, when a weak arterial spot is detected, the body creates a patch for that area. Cholesterol is used most often for this and it works well, too…until it begins to break down. Just like any fat, cholesterol may eventually go rancid-what the scientific community calls oxidation. This rancid cholesterol stiffens and becomes brittle. Then the body works to repair these stiffened areas, leading to more inflammation, further cholesterol deposition, blood clotting, and narrowed arteries. Blood pressure rises. Ultimately, a stroke or heart attack may occur.
Now, let’s return to dietary fat. Although the fat we eat isn’t directly deposited into our arteries, it contributes mightily to the health of our blood vessels and bodies. Just as rancid fat in arteries is dangerous, poor quality fats in our diet are also unhealthy. Deep-fried or barbecued foods, greasy chips and other shelf-stable snacks are rich in fats which have been exposed to high temperatures or chemical manipulation. These are damaged fats! When they come into our bodies, they create inflammation and irritation, the true building blocks of blood vessel damage.
For your best cardiovascular health, don’t smoke. Keep an eye on blood pressure and sugar levels. Move your body often. Finally, choose food wisely. Your best bets are fats in their natural state, such as fresh avocado or coconut, nuts and seeds, and dressings made with unheated oils. In order to make things even better, eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially red berries and greens. Antioxidant foods help to keep body compounds from going rancid–they stop oxidation. This is just what we need for cholesterol inside our arteries as well as the by-products of irritation due to smoking, diabetes or low-quality food intake. An apple a day keeps the doctor away in more ways than one!