In Part 1 of our series on atherosclerosis, we defined atherosclerosis and how it acts to become the world’s greatest health hazard. We talked about plaque build up and make up.
We understand that atherosclerosis is an acquired disease and that it is present to some degree in essentially all adult Americans. We were left with the questions of how this process starts in our originally pristine arteries and why it continues to grow and block our arteries.
Medical scientists are unraveling the secrets of atherosclerosis. We feel that it all begins as injury and inflammation.
The Start of Atherosclerosis
Imagine if you will, the Virgin River eons ago before there was the carved canyon that was created by its flow. The force of gravity created the flow which in turn created an injury to the earth, loosening stones and sand, washing them away. As the process continued, a canyon developed and a slope was created resulting in faster, more turbulent flow, resulting in more vigorous and deeper erosion. So the process went on over time and a viscous cycle was created resulting in progressive erosion.
The arterial blood stream is a hydraulic system as well. The blood is pushed forward by the force of the beating heart. This force is sometimes increased by gravity. There is turbulence created, especially when the blood is made to change directions, at branch points for example. Over time, as we age, the constant pounding pressure creates injury to the formerly normal arterial wall. This is the beginning of atherosclerosis. Instead of carving a canyon, this process creates plaque and blockage.
Understanding the Layers of an Artery
Your arteries are made up of 3 layers. The inside layer that comes in contact with the blood is very delicate and is only one cell layer thick. Once injured, the perfect balance of biochemical reactions within the cell is altered. White blood cells circulating in the blood are attracted to the injury. A whole host of biochemical reactions is set off.
All of the elements that form a plaque [see Part 1 of this series] are now attracted to the area, contributing their biochemistry to this inflammatory mix. This biochemical stew forms plaque. And the more elements it attracts, the more this stew simmers, and the larger the plaque grows. We now have a viscous cycle in progress in our arteries getting steadily worse, faster and faster.
The picture on the left shows normal arteries. #1 is the delicate lining cell layer. #2 is the middle layer where the smooth muscle cells are. The blood flows through the white area in the middle.
The picture on the right shows another blood vessel. Unfortunately this vessel is almost closed. There is just a small slit of white where the blood flows. The rest of the inside of the vessel is filled with plaque, which has almost completely blocked off the vessel. This is not a good thing for the tissue being supplied by this artery.
What’s to Come in Part 3 of Our Series on Atherosclerosis
The next in this series on atherosclerosis will be the last and will discuss why diabetics have more trouble with atherosclerosis. We will also learn how to prevent, lessen, or in some cases reverse some of the atherosclerotic processes. This could prevent severe damage to the target organs of heart, brain, kidney, nerve, legs, and eyes.
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