Q: One of my parents has hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), resulting in heart problems. Are there some basic things I can do to reduce my risk of hardening of the arteries, beyond diet and exercise?

A: You are taking positive first steps in trying to prevent the same happening to you. Diet and exercise are the most important steps you can be working on, along with quitting smoking, if you are a smoker. Further, there are additional steps you can take to give you an extra edge on this health issue. To start, voice your concerns with your primary health care provider. This way you can be evaluated for any signs of problems and to enable your health care provider to customize any necessary treatments and monitor your heart’s health.

There are also some foods and supplements you can discuss with your health care provider to help reduce atherosclerosis. For example, consider eating more garlic. Garlic has a number of benefits for the heart. These include moderately lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. One way that garlic helps the heart is by slowing down or preventing the thickening of arteries. This is important since thicker arteries are a sign of deteriorating arterial health. To get the maximum benefit, consider which form of garlic you are using. The best form of garlic for heart issues is a single clove of raw garlic crushed and then consumed after waiting for 10 minutes. Although this sounds awful to many people, if you mince it and add it to another food, it usually isn’t bad. In fact, some cultures regularly add raw garlic to certain recipes. When it comes to garlic breath, most people find one clove a day doesn’t usually cause bad breath. If eating raw garlic is prohibitive, you can still benefit by taking a garlic pill or adding more garlic to your food. When choosing a supplement, be aware it is the chemical that causes the garlic smell that gives you the benefit, so an odorless garlic pill might not work as well.

Another supplement that is good for preventing hardening arteries is magnesium. In studies on diet and heart disease, diets with more magnesium seem to have less risk of heart attacks. Additionally, a study published the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that a magnesium supplement seems to modestly reverse some stiffness in arteries for people who are overweight or obese. If you choose to try to get more magnesium in the form of food, your best sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. Other good sources include almonds, pumpkin seeds, and black beans. If you choose to take a supplement, avoid magnesium oxides, because some people do not digest these supplements as well. Instead choose a more absorbable form of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate.

Still another nutrient to consider is vitamin K2. There are two forms of vitamin K. Vitamin K1 comes from green leafy vegetables and vitamin K2 comes from fermented foods, like sauerkraut and some aged cheeses. Research suggests that vitamin K2 seems to help prevent atherosclerosis. Vitamin K2 may do this in part by preventing calcium from depositing in the arteries, so the arteries stay more flexible. Vitamin K2 also contributes to bone health and reduces the risk of some cancers. You can get vitamin K2 from food, but it is also available as a supplement, if that is easier.

As you can see, adding these common nutrients to your diet, either in the form of food or as supplements, can improve the health of your arteries potentially above and beyond following a basic heart-healthy diet alone.

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