How can I prevent atherosclerosis?
You can help prevent atherosclerosis by making lifestyle changes. The following lifestyle changes will reduce your risk of atherosclerosis by helping you lose weight, lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and control your blood sugar (important if you have diabetes).
- Exercise. Exercise can help you lose weight if you’re overweight or obese and also helps raise your HDL and lower your LDL cholesterol levels. Try to work up to 30 minutes of moderate-level activity, 4 to 6 times a week. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can damage your blood vessels, reduce the flow of blood through blood vessels, and lower your HDL cholesterol levels. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can affect your blood vessels and cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about developing a plan to help you stop smoking.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and “good” fats. See “High Cholesterol” for more on eating a heart-healthy diet.
- Talk to your doctor about adding supplements to your diet. Certain supplements may help improve your cholesterol levels if changing your diet isn’t enough. Some examples include:
- Plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols can help keep your body from absorbing cholesterol. Sterols have been added to some foods, including margarines and spreads, orange juice and yogurt. You can also find sterols and stanols in some dietary supplements.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, consider taking an omega-3 supplement. There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the 3 main types are EPA, DHA and ALA. The most common and effective omega-3 fatty acid supplement is fish oil. A fish oil supplement should contain at least 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (these are the specific omega-3 fatty acids found in fish). Vegetarians may prefer to get their omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources. For vegetarians, flaxseed oil is a common source of ALA, although ALA may not be as beneficial for heart health as EPA and DHA.
- Red yeast rice. A common seasoning in Asian countries, red yeast rice may help reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes. It is available as a dietary supplement. Talk to your doctor before taking red yeast rice, especially if you take another cholesterol-lowering medicine called a statin. The recommended dose of red yeast rice is 1,200 milligrams twice a day.
- Manage stress. Try to reduce your stress levels. Ways to deal with stress include deep breathing and relaxation techniques such as meditation, gentle exercise such as walking or yoga, and talking with a friend, family member or health care provider about your problems.
What happens if lifestyle changes aren’t enough?
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels and to prevent blood clots. If you have severe atherosclerosis or have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, your doctor may recommend a procedure or surgery to open or bypass your blocked arteries.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff