Heart disease, which is interchangeably used with the term Cardiovascular disease, is currently considered the number one cause of mortality in Europe and the USA. While that’s certainly not an ideal statistic, the upside is that there are a whole lot of ways that can be done to prevent it including Atherosclerosis prevention.
In this article, we’re going to talk about Atherosclerosis, which can be considered as a form of heart disease, and the use naturally occurring compounds known as “Flavonoids” to help prevent it.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty substances known as “Plaques” in the arteries. This build-up has some potentially fatal impacts.
The areas of the plaques become sticky which causes the passing red blood cells to stick together and clot. In a worse scenario, these congealed red blood cells may also break off and lead to blockages elsewhere in the body. That doesn’t sound good, does it? Let’s dig deeper and know what causes Atherosclerosis in the first place.
How Does Atherosclerosis Arise?
You’ve probably heard of the term “free radicals.” These are highly reactive and unstable molecules which, if allowed to remain in the body, can cause considerable damages.
But although free radicals are constantly being created in your body, there are balancing acts that can be done to get rid of these unstable molecules. These include breathing oxygen, digesting food and exercising. Yes, through these everyday activities, your body tries to rid itself of the free radicals created before they can cause any serious damages!
You might now be wondering, how do free radicals relate to Atherosclerosis and, by extension, the risk of heart disease? The answer comes down to Cholesterol, which is consumed in your food and is produced by your liver. And just like anything else in this world, Cholesterol has a good and bad side. The good cholesterols are known as High-Density Lipoprotein or HDL, and bad cholesterols are called Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL.
Now, cholesterol serves a crucial role as it forms part of every cell wall in the human body. The problem arises when LDL cholesterol interacts with all the free radicals present in your body. This turns LDL molecules into another form called Oxidized Low-Density Lipoprotein or OxLDL, which is much more easily absorbed by the cells that line your arteries.
As a result, the cells start to rapidly absorb these modified cholesterol molecules from the bloodstream causing them to swell. These swollen cells are what lead to the plaques discussed earlier, and eventually lead to Atherosclerosis.
You now have a better idea of what Atherosclerosis is and how it occurs in your body. Let’s move on to understanding what flavonoids are and how they aid in Atherosclerosis prevention.
What Are Flavonoids?
Experts have identified over 4,000 different kinds of Flavonoids. These are diverse groups of plant chemicals (phytonutrients) which are responsible for the vibrant coloring of vegetables and fruits.
What Role Do Flavonoids Play in Atherosclerosis Prevention?
What makes Flavonoids more interesting is that they are considered to be potent antioxidants! This means that they play an important role in battling free radicals. Flavonoids neutralize free radicals to the point that they can no longer turn LDL cholesterol into OxLDL. Thus, preventing Atherosclerosis.
In theory, Flavonoids are the silver lining of cardiovascular diseases. Are there more to these phytonutrients?
How to Benefit from Flavonoids Yourself?
Rigorous studies have demonstrated the cardioprotective effect of consuming flavonoid-rich foods. A well-regarded study in the Netherlands compared the incidence of heart diseases with dietary flavonoid intake and found that higher consumption of these plant chemicals is inversely associated with subsequent coronary heart diseases.
In theory, almost any brightly colored plant material is likely to have at least some flavonoids in them. This means that following a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can form a heart-healthy diet and take Atherosclerosis prevention to the next level.
With that said, the experts found certain sources that seem to be particularly beneficial. These include
Cranberries have long been thought of as a “superfood,” and the evidence is growing as to their beneficial impact on heart health.
A group of scientists reported that cranberries contain a remarkably high concentration of polyphenols, which contain a variety of phytochemicals including flavonoids.
In another study, which has been tested in clinical settings, a group of men was asked to drink cranberry juice for a 14-day period. When compared to the control group not receiving cranberry supplementation, it was noted that this group of men had roughly a 10% decline in OxLDL levels and a 6.5% increase in antioxidant capacity. An impressive result indeed!
Moreover, others have also looked at whether cranberry supplements also offer similar heart-protective benefits. In a study from Taiwan, a group of volunteers were provided with a cranberry supplement to take daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, it was found that the LDL cholesterol levels of the participants had decreased “significantly” with the experts concluding that “cranberry supplements are effective in reducing atherosclerotic cholesterol profiles.”
Berberine is a supplement synthesized from barberry, Oregon grape, and turmeric plants.
Barberry and Turmeric share the same chemical compounds that include flavonoids as well as ascorbic acid and beta-carotene. Meanwhile, Anthocyanins, the blue, red, and purple colored water-soluble pigments found in plants such as Oregon grapes, are considered one of the many forms of flavonoids.
With the positive links of these compounds to flavonoids, Berberine has been used as a treatment for a range of conditions that fall under the mantle of “metabolic syndrome,” which includes Atherosclerosis as well as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. All of which put you at higher risk of developing severe cardiovascular conditions such as heart diseases.
The evidence of Berberine’s impact on cardiovascular health has been demonstrated in repeated scientific studies. One case is where volunteers was provided with 500mg of berberine to be taken three times a day before each meal.
After three months, it was reported that blood pressure, waist circumference and cholesterol had dropped considerably. When compared to the control group, the berberine supplementation resulted in a whopping 36% improvement in signs of metabolic syndrome.
Berberine Is Not Only Useful for Atherosclerosis
It is also believed that Berberine can downregulate the production of Triglycerides, a key component of human body fat and a risk factor for Atherosclerosis. This “liposuppression” has been demonstrated in a study wherein patients with high cholesterol levels were supplemented with Berberine.
The experts found that this regimen led to a 29% reduction in Cholesterol, a 35% fall in Triglycerides and—of most interest in cases of Atherosclerosis—25% decrease in LDL cholesterol levels after just three months of treatment. This, in turn, significantly lower the risk of developing thinning or hardening of the arteries.
Interestingly, Berberine’s impact on risk factors for Atherosclerosis is only one such health benefit demonstrated in the scientific literature. You’ll find our complete guide to berberine here. We have also produced a handy guide to choosing the best berberine supplement.
#3. Onions and Garlic
In many parts of the world, onions and garlic, which are closely related plants, are staple parts of the diet and are therefore considered a major contributor of Flavonoids. Not only are they great for cooking, but for Atherosclerosis prevention as well.
A research in Finland, a country that hosted one of the most extensive studies of heart disease ever designed, involved 5,133 men and women who were followed from 1967 to 1992. Throughout this period regular health checks and dietary records were produced, which were then cross-referenced to the appearance of cardiac problems.
The results, published in the highly regarded British Medical Journal (BMJ), reported not just a clear relationship between total flavonoid intake and heart disease, but also the beneficial impact of onions themselves.
Other studies have aimed to assess the way Quercetin, which is the main flavonoid found in onions and garlic, helps to protect the body from Atherosclerosis. A vast range of different actions has been discovered as a result of this work. One study, for example, found that Quercetin seems to halt the uptake of OxLDL by the cells of the artery wall.
Elsewhere it has been demonstrated that members of the onion family can also reduce levels of the cholesterol.
#4. Red Wine
Through the years, red wine has developed quite a reputation for aiding heart health when consumed in moderation. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that it plays a part in Atherosclerosis prevention and that the active ingredient believed to confer this benefit is another example of a Flavonoid.
The results shown in laboratory settings have been nothing short of astonishing. For example, one study found that just two weeks of moderate red wine consumption resulted in a 20% reduction in the transition of LDL cholesterol to the more harmful version OxLDL.
In a longer-term study, a group of scientists testing the potential impact of red wine on heart health found that just two months of modest wine consumption led to a 40% decline in OxLDL and a 35% reduction in the size of pre-existing plaque areas.
Another research also suggests that the active ingredients in red wine can reduce levels of Fibrinogen, a protein that is responsible for the coagulation and clotting of blood associated with Atherosclerosis.
In another study, it was found that even red wine that was diluted 1000 times still protected the body against OxLDL cholesterol more effectively than the better-known antioxidant vitamin E.
Tea has long been known to contain a rich cocktail of different antioxidants, including an impressive range of Flavonoids. Thus, making itself valuable in Atherosclerosis prevention.
One scientific study on the drinking of tea claimed that the cardiovascular health benefits of drinking tea are thought to be largely due to Flavonoids.
Interestingly, studies suggest that these beneficial flavonoids are present in both green and black tea and that consumption of either can help to prevent LDL being turned into OxLDL, thus offering protection against Atherosclerosis.
It isn’t a wonder then that some studies have found an inverse relationship between tea drinking and the onset of cardiac problems. An extensive investigation named the “Rotterdam Study” looked at the link between tea consumption and Atherosclerosis in 3,454 men and women aged 55 or older. The data demonstrated a significant inverse association of tea intake with severe Aortic Atherosclerosis.
Furthermore, the effect was found to be dose-dependent, with heavy tea drinkers experiencing an even lower risk factor than more moderate tea drinkers.
Heart disease may be a dangerous and potentially fatal condition, but it is one where you have a fair degree of control over. By adopting a healthy lifestyle involving regular exercise, a reduced cholesterol intake and a diet rich in plant matter, such as berries, onions, garlic, and tea, you’ll be in the best position possible to keep your heart healthy for the long term.
Not to mention, you’ve also finally gotten a valid excuse to enjoy the odd glass of red wine in the evening thanks to the medicinal properties it exhibits. Cheers!