12-Sep-2014.By: Friday Enaholo
A normal and healthy blood vessel is characterized by a high level of flexibility: that is, it should have effortless ability to expand to accommodate large blood volume and return to its original size thereafter. However a number of factors can affect the flexibility of the blood vessels and when this happens, a hitherto flexible blood vessel becomes rigid, prone to injuries and lead to a number of cardiovascular conditions. Another consequence is the narrowing of the arteries as a result of several pathologic processes such as build up of fatty plagues, clotting of blood inside our arteries, etc.
Fats exist in different parts of body: in the adipose tissues, the blood, etc. The "fat" that block our blood vessels are found circulating in the blood. These are commonly referred to as plasma lipids. Examples of plasma lipids are Cholesterol and Triglyceride. These two play a crucial role in the process that lead to blockade of our blood vessels (arteries)
Cholesterol and Blocked Blood Vessels
The human body requires cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest foods. The body produces cholesterol in the liver and also obtains cholesterol from diet. Cholesterol travels through the blood in form of Lipoprotein (made of fat -lipid- on the inside and proteins on the outside). Two kinds of lipoproteins are well known: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having adequate levels of both types of lipoproteins is critical for cardiovascular health. LDL cholesterol is popularly called “bad” cholesterol and this is because it is very sticky and a high level of LDL in the blood often leads to cholesterol build up in the arteries, sticking to the endothelium (wall of the arteries) and initiating the process of plague formation, which in turn makes the arteries rigid and blocks them.
Conversely, HDL cholesterol helps to carry LDL cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver and subsequently exits the blood stream. For this reason, it is popularly referred to as "good” cholesterol. When the level of good cholesterol is low, the bad cholesterol shoots up, effectively clogging the blood vessel wall. For optimal cardiovascular health, LDL should be low while HDL should be high.
Usually, abnormal level of cholesterol in the blood has no signs or symptoms. Therefore, people with abnormal levels of cholesterol may not know their status. This places such people at high risk of heart related disease such as Coronary Heart Disease. A higher than normal level of LDL and lower level than normal of HDL increases the chance of getting a heart disease.
How does cholesterol block blood vessels? Arterial fatty plague formed as a result of high level of LDL cholesterol and Triglycerides (and low HDL cholesterol) is also called Atherosclerotic plague while the process of its formation is called Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis develops over years, beginning from early childhood. Below is a simplified version of the process of fatty plague formation in our blood vessel:
A. Injured Artery Wall (Endothelium)
The wall of the artery is very delicate and susceptible to damage by high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglyceride, smoking, etc. The site of injury on the wall creates a suitable place for entry of oxidized cholesterol.
B. Accumulation of Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is oxidized in the blood stream, enters the damaged wall and accumulates in the wall of the artery.
C. Plaque Build Up
Some white blood cells also stream into the wall in an attempt to digest the LDL cholesterol. The accumulated LDL cholesterol and cells form a thick mass and become a cholesterol or "fatty" plaque in the wall of the artery. The plague may stay within the wall or grow and push up the wall into the path of the blood, thereby narrowing or completing blocking blood flow to organs and tissues that the affected blood vessel usually supplies blood to. When such blood supply is reduced or completely cut off because of the blockage, that organ begins to die. In addition, cholesterol plaques can suddenly break up or rupture. This will allow blood clot to form inside the artery. This may lead to heart attack (if the artery that supplies blood to the heart -coronary artery- is affected) or stoke (if the artery that supplies blood to the brain is affected).
Here are some of the medical conditions associated with fatty plaque formation:
Coronary Artery Disease - If the plaque formed in the arteries of the heart is stable, there may be no symptoms or it may simply cause pain in the chest, called Angina Pectoris. This happens when the artery is narrowed by the bulging mass of fatty plaque. But sudden plaque rupture and blood clot at the point of rupture can lead to complete blockade of the artery. This eventually leads to death of heart muscles because blood supply to it has been cut off. This condition is called Heart Attack.
Cerebrovascular Disease - If the rupture occurs in the brain artery, this may lead to stroke, causing permanent brain damage.
Peripheral Artery Disease - If the blockade occurs in the arteries of the legs, it could lead to pain in the legs or poor healing of wounds due to poor circulation of blood to the affected leg. If the case is severe, such leg may be amputated.
There are some steps you must take in ensuring healthy blood vessels. Here are some of them;
- Avoid fatty meat (pork, butter, beef and lamb). Instead choose lean meats, or substitute fish or skinless white-meat poultry.
- Consume low-fat dairy products. Avoid dairy foods that contain whole milk or cream
- Go for low-fat snacks (homemade popcorn, carrots, dried fruits, or fresh fruits) instead of fatty fast foods
- Reduce the use of saturated fat in cooking. Use liquid cooking oils rather than butter or margarine. Avoid using margarine to fry eggs or cooking jollof rice.
- Reduce dietary cholesterol. Limit eggs to less than four egg yolks per week. Drastically reduce consumption of cholesterol-rich organ meats, such as liver, brains, and kidneys.
- Increase intake of complex carbohydrates and fiber such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, dried beans. Water soluble fibers such as fruits are healthier because they can significantly lower blood cholesterol level when eaten with a low-fat diet.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, to protect the heart
- Eat more fish. High fish intake is associated with low incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Oily fish contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which confer great health benefits, including improved cholesterol levels.
Last Updated: 13-Jul-2017 10:09 AM
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