Removing plaque from your arterial walls is difficult. In fact, it’s almost impossible without the use of an invasive treatment. Instead, the best course of action is to halt plaque development and prevent future plaque buildup.
How do arteries get clogged?
The circulatory system is an intricate network of capillaries, blood vessels, and arteries. These tubes move oxygenated blood through your body, helping fuel all your body’s functions. When the oxygen is used up, you exhale carbon dioxide from your lungs, breathe in more oxygen-rich blood, and start the cycle again.
As long as those blood vessels are clear and open, blood can flow freely. Sometimes small blockages build up inside your blood vessels. These blockages are called plaques. They develop when cholesterol sticks to the wall of the artery.
Your immune system, sensing a problem, will send white blood cells to attack the cholesterol. This sets off a chain of reactions that leads to inflammation. In a worst-case scenario, cells form a plaque over the cholesterol, and a small blockage is formed. Sometimes they can break loose and cause a heart attack. As the plaques grow, they may block blood flow in an artery entirely.
You may have read articles or heard reports promoting natural ways to unclog your arteries. For now, research doesn’t support the use of specific foods to unclog arteries, though small studies in animals show promise for the future.
Losing weight, exercising more, or eating less cholesterol-rich foods are all steps you can take to reduce plaques, but these steps won’t remove existing plaques.
Focus on promoting better heart health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Healthy habits will help prevent additional plaque from forming.
Heart health tips
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Make exercise a part of your regular routine. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs to help you quit.
- Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day.
Direct your efforts toward decreasing your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and increasing your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. Your LDL level is a measure of the “bad” cholesterol that’s in your blood.
When you have a lot of LDL, the excess cholesterol floats through your body and may stick to your arterial walls. HDL, the "good" cholesterol, helps whisk away the LDL cells and stops plaques from forming.
Here are some additional tips that may help you prevent plaque buildup.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Diet can play a big role in improving your heart health and reducing your risk for a buildup of plaque. It’s never too late to eat a healthier diet. Just as years of bad eating can damage your body, good eating can help heal it. A heart-healthy diet contains plenty of good fats and low amounts of bad fats.
- Add more good fats to your diet. Good fats are also called unsaturated fats. They’re found in foods like olives, nuts, avocado, and fish.
- Cut sources of saturated fat, such as fatty meat and dairy. Choose lean cuts of meat, and try eating more plant-based meals.
- Eliminate artificial sources of trans fats. Most artificial trans fats are found in processed, packaged foods like cookies and snack cakes.
- Increase your fiber intake. Soluble fiber helps lower your LDL. You can find soluble fiber in foods like vegetables, lentils, beans, and oats.
- Cut back on sugar. Vitamins and minerals accompany the sugar found naturally in fruit. The sugar found in processed foods like cookies, ice cream, and sugar-sweetened beverages doesn’t have nutritional value. Too much added sugar can negatively impact your health.
Exercise can improve your cardiovascular health and help prevent cardiac issues. If you’re not physically active, start slowly. Go for a walk once or twice a week. When that fits into your schedule, go for more walks.
Slowly build up your routine and your stamina. Aim to get 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise at least five days per week.
It’s important to always talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
When you eat better and move more, the natural result might be that you lose weight. Carrying extra weight increases your LDL cholesterol. That increases your risk for plaque buildup.
Losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can have a huge impact on your health, including your cholesterol.
Stop smoking and drinking
The day you quit smoking, your health will start to rebound. Quitting smoking may help raise your HDL levels, too. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting smoking. They can recommend smoking cessation programs and resources.
Too much alcohol can also affect your heart. But some studies have shown that moderate use of alcohol may increase your HDL levels. It’s not a good idea for anyone to begin drinking for this reason, though. These studies are not definitive enough for doctors to encourage anyone to drink for heart health.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your LDL and prevent plaques. Be sure to take your cholesterol medication as prescribed. Many medications may also work better when you make healthy lifestyle changes. So, it’s never a bad idea to incorporate healthy changes, even if you’re taking medicine.
If your doctor discovers that one or more of your arteries is blocked, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Instead, your doctor may suggest an invasive treatment to remove or bypass the blockages.
During these procedures, your doctor will insert a tiny tube into your artery to suck out the plaque or break up the plaque (atherectomy). Your doctor may then leave behind a tiny metal structure (stent) that helps support the artery and increase blood flow.
If these procedures aren’t effective or if the blockage is severe, a bypass may be required. During this surgery, your doctor will remove arteries from other parts of your body and replace the blocked artery.
It’s important you work with your doctor to create a treatment plan if you have clogged arteries. If blockages remain untreated, you could experience serious health complications like a stroke, aneurysm, or heart attack.
If you were diagnosed with arterial blockages, now is the time to get healthy. Though there is little you can do to unclog arteries, you can do a lot to prevent additional buildup. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you lower your levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. It can also help you be healthier overall.
Healthy lifestyle changes are especially important if you have a procedure to remove plaques or bypass a heavily clogged artery. Once you’ve had a clog removed or reduced, it’s important you do everything you can to prevent more plaque buildups so you can lead a longer, healthier life.