Preventing atherosclerosis

Preventing atherosclerosis – Atherosclerosis is a preventable and treatable condition.

Lifestyle changesMaking lifestyle changes is a very effective way of preventing, or reversing, the process of atherosclerosis, as well as reducing your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as a coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

There are five ways you can help reduce your risk of developing further coronary heart disease:stop smoking (if you smoke)

eat a healthy diet

take regular exercise

lose weight (if you are overweight or obese)

moderate your consumption of alcohol


These lifestyle changes are discussed in more detail below.


Smoking –

If you smoke, it is strongly recommended that you quit as soon as possible. The NHS Smokefree website can provide you with support and advice. Your GP will also be able to recommend and prescribe medication that can help you give up.

See the Health A-Z topic about Quitting smoking – treatment for more information and advice.



It is recommended that you eat two to four portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish contains a type of fatty acid called omega-3. Omega-3 can help lower your cholesterol levels.

Good sources of omega-3 include:







If you are unable, or unwilling, to eat oily fish, your GP may recommend that you take an omega-3 food supplement. However, you should never take a food supplement without first consulting your GP. Some supplements, such as beta-carotene, can be harmful.

It is also recommended that you eat a Mediterranean-style diet. This means that you should eat more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat. Replace butter and cheese with products that are vegetable and plant-oil based, such as olive oil.


Weight management


If you are overweight, or obese, you should lose weight, and maintain a healthy weight by using a combination of regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet.

See the Health A-Z topic about Obesity – treatment for more information and advice.



If you drink alcohol, you should not exceed the recommended daily limits (3-4 units a day for men, and 2-3 units a day for women).

A unit of alcohol is roughly half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure (25ml) of spirits. Regularly exceeding the recommended alcohol limits will raise your blood pressure and your cholesterol level, which will increase your risk of developing CVD.

You should contact your GP if you find it difficult to moderate your drinking. Counselling services and medication can help you to reduce your alcohol intake.

See Alcohol misuse – treatment for more information and advice.


Regular exercise

A minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, five times a week, is the recommended amount of exercise. The exercise should be strenuous enough to leave your heart beating faster, and you should feel slightly out of breath afterwards.

Activities that you could incorporate into your exercise programme include:

brisk walking

hill climbing




If you find it difficult to achieve 30 minutes of exercise a day, you should start at a level that you feel comfortable with. For example, you could do five to ten minutes of light exercise a day and then gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness begins to improve.



Diet for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular health

A variety of fruits and vegetables (5 to 9 servings/day of different colours).


Vegetable juices are great for you and blueberries are one of the best foods you can eat.


A variety of grain products, with an emphasis on whole grains (6 or more servings/day).


Lecithin is a good food for you, as is oat bran. Also linseed: try the LSA recipe for breakfast or the linseed breakfast cereal.


At least 2 servings of fish per week, but 3- 4 is better. Eat cold water oily dark fish preferbaly


Limit total fat intake to <30% and saturated fat to <10% of energy. Replace dietary saturated fats and trans fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including good helpings of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids). Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish (such as salmon), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and nuts.


Limit dairy products to low-fat items (2 to 4 servings/day)


Limit sodium (salt) intake to 6 grams per day (remember a lot of processed foods are very high in sodium)


Limit alcohol intake to 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women. Remember red wine is generally better for the arteries than any other alcohols


Maintain a healthy body weight by matching calorie intake to energy needs; this includes a moderate level of regular physical activity (30 to 60 minutes within target heart range most days per week)


Eat garlic and onions liberally as they are such good antioxidants.Other good antioxidant foods that will help stop damage to the arteries wheat grass, chlorella and seaweed. Also asparagus, the cabbage family, papaya, soy beans and brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds (but only if eaten uncooked and unsalted).

Drink at least 8 glasses of pure water a day


Decrease coffee and tea unless its green tea or herb tea, which you can generally drink in liberal doses. Don’t drink much liquorice tea however if you have high blood pressure.


Grapefruit can be a great addition to your diet as it can assist the break up of calcification on the arteries, however please check that it contraindicated not contrindicated with any medication as it can change somemedications metabolism in the liver.


If you have high blood pressure eat more pottasium rich foods including bananas.


Vitamin C

A few studies suggest that consuming high levels of vitamin C may protect against heart disease, but not all studies confirm this relationship. It is recommended that people who have low levels of this nutrient should take vitamin C (either through diet or supplements) to prevent atherosclerosis and its complications



Low blood levels of this antioxidant may worsen atherosclerosis. Cigarette smoking and alcohol ingestion are believed to contribute to selenium deficiency.


Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of calcium build-up in the arteries, a atherosclerosis component of atherosclerotic plaque. Atherosclerotic plaque build up in blood vessels can lead to a heart attack or stroke. More research is needed to understand the practical implications of this possible relationship between low vitamin D levels and atherosclerosis.