WHAT is the hardening of the artery?
The hardening of the artery, medically known as arteriosclerosis, is a condition that starts very early in life, where blood clots and cholesterol deposits adhere to the inner wall of the arteries non-stop for decades. They eventually make the arteries throughout the body lose their normal elasticity and transform them into hard or even calcified pipes, whose caliber is narrowed, severely blocked or even totally blocked. After some years, they cut off the blood, nutrition, and oxygen supplies to vital organs.
Who are affected by this disease?
The common impression is that hardening of the arteries affects only the older people, those in their 60s and 70s, and beyond. This not true. Autopsies performed on many young children, as young as 5 who died of accidents, have shown that their arteries in the heart and the rest of the body already had a thin lining or coating of hardening. You could imagine how much thicker they are inside us, adults. But there are many individual factors (genetic and lifestyle, behavior, etc.) that determine how slow or fast the process is in each person.
How does arteriosclerosis cause health problems?
The hardening of the arteries by itself does not cause any problems, so long as the arteries are not blocked more than 50 percent, and capacity to transport blood to the muscles and vital organs is not impaired or severely reduced. If the caliber or the inner channel of the arteries is severely blocked by hardening of the arteries, and the arteries are unable to bring enough volume of blood (which contains oxygen and nutrients) to the tissues and organs they supply. Those tissues and organs (like the brain, heart, kidneys, intestines, arms, legs and feet) will suffer from lack of oxygen and nutrition, which is medically termed ischemia.
What conditions does hardening of the arteries cause?
They vary according to the specific artery obstructed and range from dizziness, blindness, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure, intestinal gangrene, leg gangrene and foot gangrene, where tissues rot because of the lack of oxygen and nutrients. There are other tissues and organs that could be similarly affected.
How common is this condition among teenagers?
As stated earlier, this process starts at an early age, earlier than what the medical community care to admit or address. Obviously among teenagers hardening of the arteries are milder than those in the 20s or 30s or older, and certainly worse among those in the 40s and above. In general, the older a person is, the more prone he/she is to have more hardening of the arteries.
What should young people do to stay healthy?
Preventive medicine is the best “cure,” the very essence of my health book entitled “Let’s Stop ‘killing’ Our Children,” which advocates for disease prevention from the cellular (DNA) level and healthy lifestyles starting in the womb and in the crib. This is the only way to prevent what we today call “normal and expected diseases of the old,” like high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s or even cancer.
Future children and adults do not necessarily have to have these so-called “normal and expected diseases.” There is no wiser strategy in staying healthy and maximizing longevity than to prevent diseases at the DNA level through a healthy lifestyle (of the mother) for the developing fetus. It will continue on from the crib until adulthood and the senior years. At whatever age, today is not too late to starting living healthier.
While there was confusion half a century ago as to what a healthy lifestyle was, today, with advances in research, medical and computer technologies, we now know much more as to what a healthy lifestyle entails. It is only logical to expect health problems when we smoke poisonous substances, when we overeat, eat the “wrong” food, stay overweight, not exercise, do not relax, or do not take care of ourselves. All these unhealthy habits and behaviors affect us and the fetus inside a pregnant woman. Plain common sense will tell us that this lifestyle will lead to health problems. One does not have to be a doctor to come to this conclusion.
What could young people do to slow it down?
The best time to start is really at conception, when the DNA is just developing, which is actually at the very start of pregnancy. Protecting the DNA and starting with a clean slate (no damaged DNA) is the key.
Now, for you, today is the right moment. We are never too old to start a healthy lifestyle, and must not wait to grow even older before adopting a healthier lifestyle. The younger we are, the better. Since we were unable to choose our parents, there was (is) nothing we can do about the genetic factor. But the modifiable risks, which are within our control, could and should, be avoided or reduced. A recipe for a healthy lifestyle includes the following ingredients: staying off drugs and smoking, eating low carbohydrate diet of fish, vegetables, fruits, high-fiber cereals, instead of pork, beef, eggs, diary products (skim milk is good); exercising every day by aerobic exercises, like brisk walking, swimming, tai chi, ballroom dancing or rock & rolling, learning how to relax, preferably with family, a friend, or friends, with good music and good laughter, and watching your weight. Being at peace with others and, especially with yourself, brings down the adrenalin and harmful chemicals in our system, and increases the endorphins and other good chemicals (happy hormones) in our body. All these help slow down hardening of the arteries and aging. The principle is longevity through disease prevention and healthy lifestyle…from the cellular (DNA) level for future children. For us, the start is today.
Are there drugs that can slow down aging ?
There are medications today that help in lowering blood cholesterol and fats, treat high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes, but we do have any yet that can slow down the process of hardening of the arteries or aging. Medical research has been in constant search for this “Fountain of Youth” since time immemorial.
In the meantime, we can, today, slow down the hardening of the arteries and avoid diseases to a significant degree through prevention, by adopting a lifestyle that will give us a longer, healthier, happier, and more productive life.
Ponce de Leon would have loved to be living in our “look-and-feel-younger” generation.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org