Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in your arteries. Plaque is a cluster of fat, cholesterol, cell waste, and other substances.
Plaque deposits eventually become inflamed. When they become large enough, they narrow the artery or completely block it.
Inflamed plaque can rupture. When they rupture, blood clots form. Plaque in the arteries can cause heart attacks and strokes.
In the past, we knew that diet and exercise could stop plaque from building up further. Yet, scientists thought that it wasn’t possible to remove plaque from already-clogged arteries.
Recent animal studies have given us hope that we may be able to remove some plaque in the arteries through diet (1, 2, 3, 4). This plaque regression occurs by removing fat and other material from arteries (5).
Here are 10 foods that can naturally clear clogged arteries and lower bad cholesterol
10 Foods That’ll Unclog Your Arteries and Lower Bad Cholesterol
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It is well-known that flaxseed slows the progression of plaque buildup. According to a rabbit study, flaxseed may even shrink plaque on artery walls. In this study, plaque formation decreased by 40% when rabbits ate flaxseed (1).
A review also noted that Flaxseed reduced circulating LDL or “bad” cholesterol (6).
Flaxseed contains omega-3s, fiber, and lignans as well. Lignans are an antioxidant. People who eat lignans have a much lower risk of developing heart disease (7).
Lignans and fiber may even work together to have a greater effect on reducing heart disease.
The Omega-3s in flaxseed may help reduce platelet clustering. Omega-3 can also help reduce inflammation in the arteries (4).
2. Chia Seeds
Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are a good source of plant-based omega-3s and fiber. Plant-based omega-3s may lower the risk of heart disease by 14% (8).
Fiber reduces the risk of heart disease and can help with weight loss. Excessive weight is a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Flaxseed and chia seeds contain antioxidants. Flaxseeds have more lignans and chia seeds have more quercetin. Quercetin can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seed contains many heart-healthy nutrients. Vitamin E, ALA omega-3s, and arginine are particularly beneficial. It acts as an antioxidant and can help reduce inflammation.
Vitamin E can also help keep platelets from sticking together. Without sticking together, the platelets can’t form artery-clogging clots (9).
Walnuts are also a good source of arginine. These nuts are also a good source of fiber, ALA omega-3, and vitamin E. Vitamin E isn’t the only antioxidant in walnuts.
Walnuts also contain polyphenols. All these nutrients significantly decrease the risk of heart disease.
The antioxidants in walnuts can help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. This can help slow or stop the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Garlic can slow the progression of plaque and may even reduce the amount of one type of plaque. In one study, garlic reduced the amount of Low Attenuation Plaque in the arteries (5).
This type of plaque is unstable and has a high risk of rupturing. In another study, garlic stopped plaque progression in rabbits (13).
While nuts and seeds contain ALA Omega-3, salmon contains DHA and EPA Omega-3. The omega-3 in salmon can improve vasodilation and decrease inflammation.
Salmon also contains selenium. Selenium is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. Astaxanthin is another antioxidant found in salmon.
Astaxanthin may help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol (14).
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
In one study, a group of people who were at high risk for heart disease followed the Mediterranean diet. Another group did not.
The people on the Mediterranean diet were also asked to eat extra virgin olive oil or nuts. The people on the Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to develop heart disease (15).
These results might explain the low prevalence of heart disease in the Mediterranean regions. The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil also contains other heart-healthy nutrients like vitamin E, monounsaturated fats, and antioxidants.
Monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol. Antioxidants can reduce inflammation and help relax the arteries. The antioxidants in Extra Virgin Olive Oil may even help prevent blood clotting from occurring (16).
Broccoli contains the antioxidant sulforaphane. Sulforaphane can provide protection against arterial clogs (17). Sulforaphane may also help relax the arteries and increase blood flow (18). Other vegetables that contain sulforaphane are Brussel Sprouts, cauliflower, and kale.
The antioxidants in cherries can reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure (19). Cherries are also a good source of fiber. High fiber intakes reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber can also aid in weight loss by helping you feel full longer.
Grapefruit is a fruit that grows from a citrus tree in subtropical regions. They are not as sweet as other fruits. In fact, many describe them as having a sour or bitter taste. This tropical fruit offers protection against heart disease thanks to its antioxidant content.
Grapefruits contain a variety of antioxidants including:
- Vitamin C
These antioxidants offer powerful protection against heart disease by reducing inflammation.
The Bottom Line
We need more human trials to determine if diets can unclog arteries. We do know that diet and exercise can slow or even stop heart disease in its tracks.
Some animal studies suggest that certain foods can help remove some plaque buildup. So, although we can’t remove all plaque through diet, we may be able to reduce the size. Although diet may help shrink clogs, blocked arteries will often need surgery.
Foods complement each other. Singling out and eating just one nutrient doesn’t work. Combining all these heart-healthy nutrients as part of a balanced diet works best. A heart diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish.