A generic term for a number of diseases in which the arterial wall becomes thickened and loses elasticity.
The term arteriosclerosis refers to several diseases that involve both arteries of different sizes and different layers of the walls of the arteries. From Greek words that mean "hardening of the arteries, " the term originally signified the tendency of arteries to become hard and brittle through the depositing of calcium in their walls. This is not, however, an important characteristic of the most familiar form of arteriosclerosis, called atherosclerosis.
Although herbs exist that may be anti-arteriosclerotic, the phytotherapistaims at preventing the disease by treating the causative factors, which include not only hypertension but also diabetes mellitus, smoking, and obesity.
Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries characterized by fatty deposits on the intimal, or inner, lining. The presence of fatty deposits, called plaques, leads to an important loss of arterial elasticity with narrowing of the artery. This constriction to smooth blood-flow ultimately deprives vital organs of their blood supply. Clots may lodge in arteries supplying the heart, causing myocardial infarction (heart attack), or the brain, causing stroke. Atherosclerosis may be manifested fairly rapidly in diseases in which the concentration of blood fats (lipids) is raised, as in diabetes.
Half the annual mortality in Western society results from heart and blood-vessel diseases of which atherosclerosis, the most common lethal disease, is the chief cause. This is because of the resultant impact upon the brain, heart, kidneys and other organs of the body. A number of biochemical, physiological and environmental risk factors have been identified that increase the chances of an individual to developing arteriosclerosis.
Cholesterol, a name that carries very fearful implications for many executives and hamburger eaters! As a natural part of our metabolism it has an important role to play in human life. It is the major sterol in the human body and is found throughout the animal kingdom. Whilst seldom occluding insignificant amounts in higher plants, they do contain the therapeutically important phytosterols.
- hypertension. High blood pressure is critical in the atherosclerotic process, which does not normally occur in the low-pressure pulmonary arteries and veins, despite their being bathed by the same blood concentration of lipids.
- elevated serum lipid levels. The atherogenicity of cholesterol is influenced by the type of lipoproteins, of which there are four that transport it in the blood. The low-density lipoproteins are clearly atherogenic, but the high-density lipoproteins appear to prevent accumulation of cholesterol in the tissues
- obesity promotes all the risk factors,
- cigarette smoking increases the chances of developing this disease as well as many others.
- diets rich in saturated fats, cholesterol, and calories appear to be chiefly responsible for high blood cholesterol, and such diets are therefore believed to promote atherosclerosis.
- a family history of premature atherosclerotic disease appears to indicate either a propensity to higher levels of the risk factors for atherosclerosis or an increased susceptibility to them. Inborn errors in lipid metabolisms also increase susceptibility.
- diabetes mellitus is one disease that may lead to arteriosclerosis.
- sex. Between the ages of 35 to 44 the death rate from coronary heart disease among white men is 6.1 times that amongst white women. This is thought to be due to hormonal influences. Overt manifestations are rare in either sex before the age of 40 because more than a 75 percent narrowing of the arteries must occur before blood flow is seriously impeded.
- aging brings about degenerative arterial changes such as dilatation, tortuosity, thickening and loss of elasticity.
- physical inactivity increases the chances of complications developing, but the disease effects both the active and sedentary.
- personality type, especially type A (discussed elsewhere) appear to predispose individuals to a range of C-V problems.
- lifestyle considerations can contribute depending upon diet, stress levels etc.