Atherosclerosis (ASVD) 101

Atherosclerosis (ASVD) 101

Atherosclerosis, also called atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASVD), is a narrowing and hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of artery walls leading to fatty streaks and inflammation. ASVD is an inflammatory condition that makes arteries hard and stiff, which decreases elasticity and the ability to pump blood efficiently. Atherosclerosis can occur anywhere in the body and damages the endothelium- the inner lining of blood vessels. This leads to plaque buildup, blood clots, and blockage of blood flow. It is important to be aware of atherosclerosis and how to prevent it.


Many people who have atherosclerosis are unaware that they have it because it’s a silent condition- it produces no symptoms until a serious event occurs. Adults over the age of 40 have a 50% chance of developing serious ASVD. Most people over the age of 60 have mild atherosclerosis, but do not have any symptoms. ASVD is a leading cause of death worldwide and can lead to heart disease, the first leading cause of death, and stroke, the fifth leading cause.


ASVD is an inflammatory condition caused by an accumulation of plaque in the artery walls leading to hardening and endothelial dysfunction. Due to toxins, chemicals, and plaque buildup, the endothelium becomes damaged and unable to function properly. The endothelium is a single layer of cells acting as a barrier between the blood vessel walls and bloodstream. It secretes proteins to prevent blood clot formation. The process of endothelium damage and dysfunction starts when there is too much irritant in the bloodstream. Increased lipids and LDL cholesterol, toxins from cigarette smoking, and chronic exposure and inflammation from hypertension can all damage the endothelium. Whatever the irritant may be, it causes damage to the inner layer allowing cholesterol particles to collect underneath it and form fatty streaks throughout arteries. Eventually, the fatty streaks oxidize, which activates the immune response. White blood cells are deployed to eat up the cholesterol, but turn into foam cells causing mountains of these cells to build up and impede blood flow. Next, smooth muscle cells in the endothelium create a fibrous cap over the plaque and shield it from the bloodstream. Calcium is secreted into the plaque, which makes arteries stiff and hard. Eventually, the plaque bulges into the artery and either decreases blood flow or ruptures and complete blocks blood flow to organs causing irreversible damage and tissue death. This can occur in the kidneys, lungs, eyes, heart, brain, carotid arteries, and arms and legs. ASVD is a chronic inflammatory condition that builds up overtime due to irritants in the blood and chronic exposure to high blood pressure.

Signs and Symptoms

Atherosclerosis is a silent condition meaning it presents with no symptoms. It often causes none until blood flow is blocked or a plaque ruptures. When the clot becomes so big that it blocks blood flow symptoms will occur based on which artery is occluded. When a plaque ruptures this can lead to blood clot formation and blockage of blood flow; i.e., a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for ASVD include lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, family history, hypertension, and insulin resistance. Anything that causes inflammation poses a risk for the development of ASVD. Chronic stress, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, obesity, and poor sleep can also precipitate the foundation for atherosclerosis. It is important to assess and identify your risk factors so that you can prevent the development of serious ASVD.

Dx + Testing

Testing for atherosclerosis includes initial comprehensive lab testing, fasting insulin and blood sugar levels, lipid panel and particle size test, cardiac stress test, and ankle brachial index (ABI). This can all be performed by your primary healthcare provider at your yearly visit. Going to the doctor for a physical assessment and exam is very important for ASVD prevention.

The whole picture must be assessed for each individual cause to identify risk factors and find the root cause. Blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, cholesterol, occupation, and activity level all contribute to ASVD development. A physical assessment will check for any bruits. Upon listening to the carotid arteries in the neck, if a loud swishing sound is heard, it could indicate a bruit is present. A bruit is a swooshing sound of turbulent blood flow due to a blockage. The ankle-brachial index can also be performed to assess for any narrowing or blockages in the arms and legs.

Tx + Mgmt + Prevention

Prevention is key for ASVD. The main goal is to prevent any serious AVSD from forming. Yearly visits to your primary healthcare provider is of the upmost importance. A healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and consistent exercise are critical in prevention of inflammation and plaque buildup. Avoid cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. If prescribed any medications, such as, a blood thinner or hypertensive agent, be compliant and take medications as prescribed; do not abruptly stop.

ASVD Supplements

Supplementation for ASVD helps prevent inflammation and plaque buildup in arteries. A high-quality multivitamin is essential for optimal nutrient intake and co-enzyme functioning. Beetroot is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that boosts endothelial function and blood flow. Fish oils are anti-inflammatory and help balance out cholesterol levels and flush out plaque buildup in arteries. Turmeric is another powerful anti-inflammatory that prevents oxidative stress at the cellular level and prevents blood clot formation. A daily multivitamin, beetroot, fish oils, and turmeric can all help keep inflammation levels low and promote strong, nutrient-dense blood flow.

Keys to Success

The key to success in atherosclerosis is prevention. It is much easier to take preventative measures now than after a heart attack or stroke occurs. Put in the effort and make changes today instead of waiting until tomorrow or when the damage has already been done. Moderate to intense exercise for at least 30 minutes a day is crucial in ASVD prevention. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, stimulates tiny muscles in arteries, boosts endorphins, and promotes cardiovascular health. A whole foods diet free of sugary, starchy processed foods prevents plaque accumulation in arteries. A proper sleep regimen regulates hormone levels, prevents weight gain, and ensures an optimal energy level, which is essential for daily physical activity. Stress management, such as, conscious relaxation or meditation, boosts mood, creativity, and focus and decreases stress, artery stenosis, and cholesterol. A daily exercise routine, a healthy diet, proper sleep, and a mindfulness meditation practice are essential to optimal functioning blood vessels.

Atherosclerosis + Self-Awareness

Atherosclerosis is silent- it has no symptoms, so many people don’t even know that they have it. Going to your primary healthcare provider yearly to assess your labs is vital. Atherosclerosis is a major problem that affects adults over 40 and can lead to cardiovascular disease. You must be aware of this. Get to know yourself. Track and record in a journal your daily meals, activities, workouts, emotions and feelings, and any new pain or symptoms you may be feeling. Hold yourself accountable to exercise with consistency. Let your healthcare provider know if you feel any new symptoms or pain. Prioritize your sleep and make sure your daily meditation never gets missed. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. Share with them your health and fitness goals. Take accountability for your own health and gain awareness.

Final Thoughts

The key to clean arteries to the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Insulin sensitivity is a good indicator of overall health and metabolic flexibility. One of the best ways to promote insulin sensitivity is through exercise and movement. Mindfulness meditation for 40 minutes a day was found to reduce cholesterol and prevent artery stenosis. The goal in ASVD is prevention. Atherosclerosis preventative measures greatly reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, dementia, and diabetes. Awareness of this is key to a healthy, functional life. Start today and take charge of your own health. You are the CEO of your own health.

Thank you for reading this post.