Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. With millions of Americans impacted, it raises the question: Is there a way to reverse heart disease before the damage is permanent?
Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, develops from a buildup of plaque in blood vessels, Dr. Moore explains. This accumulation of cholesterol and fatty deposits is responsible for blocking blood flow, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
“You can shrink that collection of plaque with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Moore says.
DIET AND EXERCISE
While some risk factors, such as our genetics and age, are beyond our control, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from heart disease.
Diet plays a big part, Dr. Moore says.
“For example, if you look at the data, the Mediterranean diet is very effective in reducing the risk of heart disease,” he says. “It’s rich in olive oil, fruits, nuts, and vegetables and low in processed meats.”
Dr. Moore recommends avoiding food with too much sugar or trans fat, which raises “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
“Bad cholesterol adds to plaque deposits in your arteries,” he says.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), on the other hand, is considered “good” cholesterol because it clears away LDL to be broken down in the liver.
“HDL helps shrink plaque in the arteries and prevent heart attacks, and you can raise HDL levels through exercise,” Dr. Moore says.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
“Even if you don’t lose a pound, that 150 minutes per week will be really good for keeping your heart healthy and protecting you against coronary artery disease in the future,” Dr. Moore says.
MANAGE YOUR CHOLESTEROL
Keeping your cholesterol levels in check goes a long way toward preventing long-term damage. Don’t underestimate the power of eating healthy, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking.
“These can be used to reduce the buildup of plaque,” Dr. Moore says.
In more extreme cases, when blood vessels become more than 70% blocked, doctors will have to surgically intervene to restore blood flow.
But making simple lifestyle changes can help prevent such cases from escalating.
“Try to decrease the amount of fat in your diet and find time to exercise,” he says. “I know it’s hard, but that’s the most important thing you can do for yourself.”
ASSESS YOUR RISK
Dr. Moore recommends consulting your doctor if you’re worried about developing or worsening heart disease. Generally, men age 50 and women around 60 will be more at risk.
“Men develop heart disease a little bit earlier than women,” he explains. “But ultimately more women tend to develop heart disease than men.”
Aside from age, traditional risk factors of coronary artery disease include:
- Family history
- High blood pressure
- High LDL levels and low HDL levels
- Tobacco use
Early detection is key to reversing plaque buildup and stopping the disease from getting worse. Doctors can order stress tests to assess heart function or scans to check for calcium, which can be a marker of plaque formation.
“Then we can develop a treatment plan, which could include an exercise regimen, an eating plan, and things of that nature,” Dr. Moore says.