The build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries is a potential silent killer. In this exclusive interview, June Davison talks to BHF Professor Martin Bennett about the condition.
BHF Professor Martin Bennett works at the University of Cambridge, researching why people develop atherosclerosis. His team is also developing new imaging techniques to predict better, who might have a related event. He is also a consultant cardiologist and works at Addenbrookes and Papworth Hospitals.
You’re never too young to start eating for your heart. Science suggests these foods could help prevent clogged arteries.
The number one killer in the United States is heart disease: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 610,000 people die from it every year—that is about one out of every four deaths. The cause of heart disease is generally clogged arteries. These blood vessels can be blocked by fatty plaque that contains calcium, cholesterol, and other substances that circulate in the blood. “There is no one magic food that acts like Drano and cleans out the accumulated plaque,” says Florian Rader, MD, a cardiologist at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “But good habits can help slow down that process, and maintaining a healthy weight and diet is one factor you can control to a great degree. And,” he says, “It’s never too late to start.”
In a new Yale-led study, investigators have revealed previously unknown factors that contribute to the hardening of arteries and plaque growth, which cause heart disease. Their insight is the basis for a promising therapeutic approach to halt and potentially reverse plaque build-up and the progression of the disease, the researchers said. The study was published online by Nature Metabolism.
Current treatments for plaque and hardened arteries, a condition is known as atherosclerosis, can slow but not improve the disease. Experts believe that may be due to ongoing inflammation in blood vessels. To understand the factors contributing to this inflammation, the research team focused on a group of proteins, called transforming growth factor-beta (TGFß), that regulates a wide range of cells and tissues throughout the body.
Using cultured human cells, the researchers discovered that TGFβ proteins trigger inflammation in endothelial cells — the cells that form the inner lining of artery walls — but not in other cell types. With a technique called single-cell RNA-seq analysis, which measures the expression of every gene in single cells, they then showed that TGFβ induced inflammation in these cells in mouse models. This finding was notable, said the researchers, because TGFβ proteins are known to decrease inflammation in other cells in the body.
The researchers also showed that when the TGFβ receptor gene is deleted in endothelial cells, both the inflammation and plaque in blood vessels are significantly reduced.
To test this approach as a potential therapy, the team, led by professor of medicine Michael Simons, M.D., used an “interfering” RNA, or RNAi, a drug developed at Yale, to disrupt TGFß receptors. Interfering RNA uses a gene’s own DNA sequence to turn off or silence the gene. To deliver the drug only to endothelial cells in the blood vessel walls of mice, they employed microscopic particles, or nanoparticles, created by their co-authors at MIT. This strategy reduced inflammation and plaque as effectively as the genetic technique.
The findings identify TGFß signalling as a significant cause of chronic vessel wall inflammation, and demonstrate that disruption of this pathway leads to the cessation of inflammation and substantial regression of existing plaque, said the scientists.
Based on this discovery, investigators at Yale and MIT have launched a biotech company, VasoRX, Inc., to develop this targeted approach, using the RNAi drug delivered by nanoparticles as a potential therapy for atherosclerosis in people.
When you have coronary artery disease, it is essential to exercise regularly. If you aren’t already active, your doctor may want you to begin an exercise program. Ask your doctor about taking part in a cardiac rehab program. Rehab can help you be more active and make lifestyle changes that can lead to a healthier heart and better health.
Even if you can only do a small amount of exercise, it is better than not doing any activity at all.
- · Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Your doctor may do an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and possibly an exercise stress test to assess how much activity your heart can safely handle.
- · After you start exercising, stop your activity immediately if you experience angina symptoms (such as chest pain or pressure), feel faint or lightheaded, or become extremely out of breath.
- · Start an exercise program, such as walking, cycling, or jogging. Try to do the moderate activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Aim for a goal to exercise for at least 2½ hours a week.
- · Exercise can help lower the chance of a heart attack.
- · A complete exercise program consists of aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching.
- · Set goals you can reach. If you expect too much, you are likely to become discouraged and stop exercising
Why do arteries become narrow?
Blocked arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, is the build-up of fibrous and fatty material inside the arteries and is the underlying condition that causes coronary heart disease and other circulatory diseases. Atherosclerosis can affect all of the arteries, but particularly those that supply blood to the heart (coronaries), the neck arteries that supply blood to the brain (carotids), and the arteries that supply the legs (peripheral). This can ultimately bring on symptoms such as chest pain (angina) or lead to life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack or stroke.
How would I know if my arteries are blocked?
Many people with blocked arteries or atherosclerosis are unaware that they have it until they develop symptoms, such as angina or claudication. Unfortunately, sometimes the first time that someone realises that they have atherosclerosis is when they have an event such as a stroke or a heart attack.
Can I have a test for it?
We recommend that people over 40 go for a cardiovascular risk assessment or health check at their GP surgery. Your blood pressure, cholesterol and medical history are all taken to calculate your risk of having an event such as a heart attack or stroke. Your GP or nurse can tell if you would benefit from lifestyle changes or treatment.
If you’re found to be at high risk of having an event, you’ll be advised to make changes to your lifestyle and be monitored. It’s also likely that you’ll be recommended to take drugs, such as a statin, to reduce your risk.
What causes atherosclerosis?
The most dangerous outcome of atherosclerosis occurs if the plaque ruptures
Fatty material (or atheroma) starts accumulating in the lining of the artery wall from when we are quite young. The content is ‘foreign’ to our bodies, so it causes inflammation. The artery tries to clear up the inflammation by repairing the tissue, creating a seal of fibrous material over the fatty core.
Over time, this forms a plaque, which consists of the fatty material, the inflammation and the fibrous tissue around it. This process gradually continues so more atheroma accumulates, causing more inflammation, which results in a more prominent plaque. It can take many years before plaque growth has a significant effect.
Can atherosclerosis be reversed or slowed down?
Leading a healthy lifestyle and managing your risk factors is vital to slow the disease’s progression. The condition is progressive, and, unfortunately, current treatments can’t melt it away. However, some things can be done to slow its development and dramatically reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke.
For example, medication can slow down how quickly the fatty material accumulates. Drugs can also stabilise the plaque and reduce the chance of it rupturing, so you’re much less likely to have a stroke or heart attack.
Leading a healthy lifestyle and managing your risk factors is vital to slow the disease’s progression. This will help to prevent the onset of symptoms such as angina and also reduce the risk of having an event.
How are blocked arteries treated?
Almost everyone who has had a heart attack or has been diagnosed with angina will be prescribed medication to help protect their heart. These drugs include aspirin, which reduces the stickiness of platelets to prevent blood clots from developing, and medicines to lower cholesterol, usually statins.
Depending on their specific condition, some people may be prescribed additional treatment. For example, if someone has a heart attack, they’re likely to be prescribed beta-blockers and an ACE inhibitor, as evidence shows these medicines can reduce the risk of a further heart attack.
Once someone has had an event or if they develop symptoms, they will be investigated to see if they need further treatment. They might have their neck scanned to see if they have the carotid disease, a coronary angiogram to look at their coronary arteries, or they may have a scan or an angiogram of their legs to look at the extent of their leg disease.
Foods That Can Help Prevent Clogged Arteries
How to help your arteries? Consider some chocolate. Cocoa beans are rich in flavanols—plant compounds that have antioxidant properties and may benefit your heart. A 2017 analysis of the research done on chocolate published in the journal Nutrients found that people who regularly ate chocolate (in moderation) had a lower risk of heart failure. Nutritionists recommend dark chocolate over other types—that high cacao percentage (above 70 percent) means the bar has more beneficial compounds. Eat more of these 12 foods if you want to improve your circulation.
Like a lot of beans, coffee beans—and the java you get from them—deliver healthy antioxidants. In research, coffee seems to have the potential to lower the risk of cardiac disease; the caffeine may also help your ticker. When scientists recently gave mice the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee, they discovered that the cells lining the mice’s blood vessels began to work more efficiently.
While most nutritional guidelines acknowledge that a little wine (and other types of alcohol) in moderation may be suitable for your heart, they do so with a strong caution, says Dr. Rader. He points out that there’s no direct cause and effect—researchers haven’t established that drinking wine lowers your risk; they only know that people with a lower risk of heart disease tend to drink wine. That’s why no one is handing out free passes to drink as much as you want: Limit yourself to no more than one four-ounce glass of wine a day if you’re a woman—two for men. Keep in mind you might get similar benefits with any type of alcohol.
They’re fibre- and antioxidant-rich, and one study, published in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association, found that eating three servings a week may reduce the risk of a heart attack by a third in women. Researchers credit anthocyanins, compounds in berries that may help dilate blood vessels, making it easier for blood to pass through. Find out the ten things you can do to keep your heart valves healthy.
Probiotics get a lot of attention because they support the populations of healthy bacteria in your gut. But did you know that you can repopulate your intestines with the right healthy bacteria found in foods like kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha? Emerging research indicates that the cooking (and the bacteria they contain) may help lower your blood pressure and lousy LDL chol
Garlic REALLY is right for you: Extract ‘reverses build-up of deadly plaque that clogs arteries and triggers heart attacks’.
Garlic is perhaps best known for the stench it can leave on a person’s breath.
But now, a new study suggests garlic should be recognised for its life-saving attributes.
Aged garlic extract reduces dangerous plaque build-up in arteries, according to the study from Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
That helps prevent the progression of heart disease – which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Lead study author Dr Matthew Budoff said: ‘This study is another demonstration of the benefits of this supplement in reducing the accumulation of soft plaque and preventing the formation of new plaque in the arteries, which can cause heart disease.’
The study involved 55 patients between the ages of 40 and 75, each of whom was diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
The participants were screened at the beginning of the study to measure their total coronary plaque volume.
Their dense calcium, non-calcified plaque and low-attenuation plaque were also screened.
The screenings were conducted through cardiac computed tomography angiography (CCTA), an imaging technology that measures deposits and builds up in arteries.
After being evaluated, the participants were either given a placebo or a dose of 2,400 milligrams of aged garlic extract each day.
One year later, a follow-up screening was conducted.
The study determined those who had taken aged garlic extract had slowed the total plaque accumulation by 80 per cent.
Furthermore, they reduced soft plaque and demonstrated regression for the low-attenuation plate.
Dr Budoff said: ‘We have completed four randomised studies, and they have led us to conclude that aged garlic extract can help slow the progression of atherosclerosis and reverse the early stages of heart disease.’
The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.
The findings fall in line with a study last year from the University of Missouri.
That study revealed garlic offers brain protection against ageing and disease.
It also suggested garlic could even prevent age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The researchers found a carbohydrate in the superfood is critical.
‘Garlic is one of the most widely consumed dietary supplements,’ said Zezong Gu, associate professor at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
‘Most people think of it as a superfood, because garlic’s sulphur-containing compounds are known as an excellent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory protection.
‘Scientists are still discovering different ways garlic benefits the human body,’ he said.
New drug found to melt away heart-clogging fat with just one dose.
A new drug designed for tackling cancer and diabetes has been found to melt away the fat that clogs up arteries.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen claim that just a single dose of the new drug Trodusquemine can completely reverse the effects of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty plaque inside arteries which in turn can cause several different heart problems. In particular, it is a condition that causes heart attacks and strokes.
All humans have some level of fatty streaks in their arteries which develop further with age, according to Mirela Delibegovic, a professor at the university, who is helping to lead the study.
Her team at the University of Aberdeen tested mice and found that those given either a single a dose or a regular treatment of Trodusquemine, then had less fatty plaques in their arteries.
“These have only been tested at pre-clinical level, in mice, so far but the results were quite impressive and showed that just a single dose of this drug seemed to reverse the effects of atherosclerosis completely,” Delibegovic said.
She added the next step was to conduct human trials.
The drug is already undergoing separate trials for treating breast cancer and diabetes, where it inhibits an enzyme called PTP1B.
The researchers found that it also stimulated the action of another protein (AMPK), which effectively mimics exercise and reduces chronic inflammation.
The British Heart Foundation funded the £236,000 ($308,000) study to investigate the drug’s effect on atherosclerosis further.
How can I get started on an exercise program?
- Getting started
- Have a thorough physical exam before you begin any exercise program. Your doctor may do an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to measure the electrical signals that control the rhythm of your heartbeat, and he or she may do an exercise stress test to assess what level of activity your heart can handle.
- Before your appointment, make a list of questions to discuss with your doctor. For some general issues, see the exercise planning sheet.
- Make an exercise plan together with your doctor. An exercise program usually consists of stretching, activities that increase your heart rate (aerobic exercise), and strength training (lifting light weights). Visit a library or bookstore for information on exercise programs. Join a health club, walking group, or YMCA. Many cities have senior centres that offer inexpensive exercise programs.
- Learn how to find the right intensity of exercise. To improve your aerobic power, you don’t need to submit yourself to the strenuous and uncomfortable task. A concentration of activity called “conversational exercise” (where you can comfortably have a conversation while you are exercising) can be very beneficial.
- Start slowly. Try parking farther away from the store or walk the mall before shopping. Over time, you will increase your ability to do more.
- Keep a record of your daily exercise. It is okay to skip a day occasionally or to cut back on your training if you are too tired or not feeling well.