Arteriosclerosis and Atherosclerosis – General Overview!

AtherosclerosisThere is a lot of confusion between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis but one thing is certain, combined they account for nearly 75% of all deaths from heart disease! This unpleasant statistic comes from the American Heart Association 2004 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update. In the United States alone, approximately 1.5 million heart attacks occur annually.

The vast majority of these heart attacks are

caused by complications associated with

arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.


Most people are familiar with heart attacks or strokes. You likely have a family member or friend who either suffers from the consequences of one or has died due to one. Because of this a great deal of emphasis is placed on preventing heart attacks and strokes. While this is important, the real emphasis should be put upon preventing arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis because they are the underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes.

To best address this problem we need to clearly define arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis commonly refers to those diseases in which the arterial wall thickens and loses its elasticity. Atherosclerosis is one of those diseases. More specifically atherosclerosis refers to the formation of plaque-like deposits consisting of cholesterol and other substances on the arterial walls. These deposits become hardened by fibrous tissue and calcification. This can lead to arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. For simplicity the following definitions will be used:

  • Arteriosclerosis is any disease process that leads to the abnormal thickening and hardening of the arterial walls.

  • Atherosclerosis is the disease process that causes plaque formations to develop on the interior surface of the arterial walls.

Both arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis cause problems and complication to blood flow. Arteriosclerosis reduces the elasticity of the vascular wall leading to high blood pressure. Atherosclerosis reduces the interior space of the artery leading to reduced blood flow. Reduced blood flow reduces the ability of your cardiovascular system to deliver needed oxygen and nutrients as well as remove waste products from cellular respiration. This then affects the organs’ ability to function optimally.

The most common arteries affected are those in the brain, heart, kidneys, abdominal aorta, carotid artery, and legs. This can then lead to a whole host of symptoms like leg pain, muscular weakness, numbness, cramps, dizziness, chest pain, poor wound healing, and erectile dysfunction.

As atherosclerosis progresses in its narrowing of the arterial space it not only reduces blood flow but it also increases the potential for blood clots to form as well as plaque-like deposits breaking off. This can then cause complete blockages resulting in the common life-threatening diseases we call heart attacks and strokes.

Both arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are progressive diseases. This means that they didn’t develop over a short period of time like an infection but they develop over a long period of time. For many in the United States, this disease process can start in early childhood and progressively become more severe as the person ages.

Risk Factors That Can Lead to Arteriosclerosis and Atherosclerosis!

There are certain risk factors that contribute to the development of both arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. These risk factors are commonly categorized as “those that can be changed” and “those that cannot”. Here are the risk factors that can be changed:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol commonly referred to as “Bad Cholesterol”

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Lack of exercise

  • Western diet, which is excessive in saturated fat from meat, dairy products, eggs, and fast food combined with an inadequate intake in fruits, vegetables, and fish.

These are the risk factors that cannot be changed:

  • Advancing age

  • Being male unless you are a women who has reached menopause.

  • Have a family history of heart disease and stroke especially if it’s based on genetics.

  • African American since this population group has a historically high degree of high blood pressure and diabetes leading to premature stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and death.

As I gathered data for this article many of the websites made the following comment – “The exact cause of arteriosclerosis is not known.”

This author would like to disagree with that statement.

The exact cause of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis is known!

It is damage to the endothelial cells that line all of your cardiovascular system which reduces their ability to properly produce nitric oxide, the master signaling molecule of the cardiovascular system.

We will examine this statement and the standard treatment programs used for these cardiovascular diseases in our next article entitled “Arteriosclerosis and Atherosclerosis – Treatment Programs!”

Together we can work to save a million lives!

Dan Hammer

Dan Hammer has a background in biology, chemistry, and exercise physiology. He used to run one of the largest health club operations in the Chicagoland area and has been helping people with their wellness issues for more than 25 years.

The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information about Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis contained in this article has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.

Nitric Oxide and Sickle Cell Anemia!

Red Blood CellsOutside our body Nitric Oxide is considered to be an environmental pollutant.  Inside our body it is one of the most important, if not THE most important signaling molecule for the cardiovascular system.  It even plays a role in helping to reduce the symptoms of sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell anemia primarily affects people of African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian Indian ancestry.  Additionally, there is a growing segment of the Latino-American population particularly those of Caribbean, Central American and South American ancestry that are becoming susceptible to this hereditary disease.  It is estimated that one out of every 400 births has this disease.  (Please see my article “African Americans and Sickle Cell Anemia!” for a basic understanding of this disease.)

Recent Research – The Important of Nitric Oxide!

Researchers at Duke University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently discovered one of the keys to the cause of pain in sickle cell disease.  Their findings were reported in the January 31, 2005 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Their research showed that when normal red blood cells move through the arteries they release a signaling molecule that tells the arterial walls to expand.  The signaling molecule is nitric oxide.  Nitric oxide causes the smooth muscle in the wall of the blood vessel to relax.  This helps to open up the blood vessel allowing the red blood cells to pass through it. 

The researchers at Duke University discovered that when red blood cells distort to their sickle shape, the walls of the arteries don’t expand.  This distorted shape of the sickle cells, combined with the fact that they tend to clump together, ends up blocking blood flow through these small arteries and capillaries.  This reduces or restricts blood flow resulting in lack of oxygen to the tissues causing pain and damage.  The Duke researchers also noted that as the blood pulses, the walls of the arteries didn’t expand like they do when normal red blood cells are present.

Their research confirmed that the degree of nitric oxide deficiency directly correlated with symptom severity for those with sickle cell disease.  This means that the less nitric oxide produced the greater the pain.  The Duke/HHMI study found that when nitric oxide was administered to people with sickle cell anemia their symptoms were relieved.  One of the conclusions from this study was that abnormal nitric oxide processing may be the real cause of sickle cell circulatory restrictions.  In addition to the Duke/HHMI study, several other studies have demonstrated that when nitric oxide is administrated to people with sickle cell anemia their symptoms are greatly reduced.

One such study was performed in 1997.  Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital released a study suggesting that inhaled Nitric Oxide might successfully treat sickle cell crisis.  This is the term used to describe the characteristic episodes of debilitating pain often associated with sickle cell anemia. 

As a genetic disorder, sickle cell anemia affects the structure of the hemoglobin portion of the red blood cell.  Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the organs and tissues throughout your body.  When the abnormal hemoglobin releases its bound oxygen, it changes from the normal flexible disc of the red blood cell into a rigid, elongated sickle shape.  These sickle cells become sticky and adhere to each other as well as the walls of the tiny blood vessels.  This blocks blood flow to the tissue or organ resulting in excruciating pain and potential tissue damage from the lack of oxygen. 

The Massachusetts General Hospital researchers noted that Nitric Oxide would bind to the sickle cell hemoglobin allowing it to hold on to oxygen more avidly than it usually would.  This would help the red blood cell to hold its normal shape for a longer period of time thus reducing the risk of changing into an abnormal sickle shape.  According to Dr. Carlo Brugnara, director of the hematology lab in the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Children’s Hospital:

 “the novel idea of applying this interesting molecule to sickle cell disease may turn into one of the most significant treatment developments of this decade.”

An Additional Genetic Polymorphism!

Unfortunately, there is an additional genetic polymorphism common to the African-American community.  Many African-Americans produce too much of an enzyme called arginase.  In the bloodstream, arginase destroys L-arginine so that it’s no longer available for the production of nitric oxide.  This compounds the problem of not have a sufficient supply of nitric oxide available to help relax the small arterial walls.  This is especially important when the red blood cells change into their sickle form.

One of the ways around this is to use a nutritional supplement that combines the essential amino acid L-arginine with L-citrulline.  Your body will metabolize the amino acid L-citrulline to yield more L-arginine.  This helps to augment your body’s ability to produce Nitric Oxide and effectively bypasses the arginase enzyme.  Additionally, L-citrulline helps to optimize blood flow throughout the body and promote healthy energy levels.

It’s also important to protect and nourish your endothelial cells.  High blood pressure and diabetes will damage the endothelial cells reducing your body’s ability to produce Nitric Oxide.  This can compound the normal problems associated with sickle cell anemia.  For additional ways to help yourself or someone you know with sickle cell anemia please read my article “Sickle Cell Disease – 14 Helpful Steps!”

Together we can work to save a million lives!

Dan Hammer

The information contained in this blog is for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam.  The information contain in this blogging website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.