A generic term for a number of diseases in which the arterial wall becomes thickened and loses elasticity.

The term arteriosclerosis refers to several diseases that involve both arteries of different sizes and different layers of the walls of the arteries. From Greek words that mean “hardening of the arteries, ” the term originally signified the tendency of arteries to become hard and brittle through the depositing of calcium in their walls. This is not, however, an important characteristic of the most familiar form of arteriosclerosis, called atherosclerosis.

Although herbs exist that may be anti-arteriosclerotic, the phytotherapistaims at preventing the disease by treating the causative factors, which include not only hypertension but also diabetes mellitus, smoking, and obesity.


Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries characterized by fatty deposits on the intimal, or inner, lining. The presence of fatty deposits, called plaques, leads to an important loss of arterial elasticity with narrowing of the artery. This constriction to smooth blood-flow ultimately deprives vital organs of their blood supply. Clots may lodge in arteries supplying the heart, causing myocardial infarction (heart attack), or the brain, causing stroke. Atherosclerosis may be manifested fairly rapidly in diseases in which the concentration of blood fats (lipids) is raised, as in diabetes.

Half the annual mortality in Western society results from heart and blood-vessel diseases of which atherosclerosis, the most common lethal disease, is the chief cause. This is because of the resultant impact upon the brain, heart, kidneys and other organs of the body. A number of biochemical, physiological and environmental risk factors have been identified that increase the chances of an individual to developing arteriosclerosis.

These include:

  • hypertension. High blood pressure is critical in the atherosclerotic process, which does not normally occur in the low-pressure pulmonary arteries and veins, despite their being bathed by the same blood concentration of lipids.

  • elevated serum lipid levels. The atherogenicity of cholesterol is influenced by the type of lipoproteins, of which there are four that transport it in the blood. The low-density lipoproteins are clearly atherogenic, but the high-density lipoproteins appear to prevent accumulation of cholesterol in the tissues

  • obesity promotes all the risk factors,

  • cigarette smoking increases the chances of developing this disease as well as many others.

  • diets rich in saturated fats, cholesterol, and calories appear to be chiefly responsible for high blood cholesterol, and such diets are therefore believed to promote atherosclerosis.

  • a family history of premature atherosclerotic disease appears to indicate either a propensity to higher levels of the risk factors for atherosclerosis or an increased susceptibility to them. Inborn errors in lipid metabolisms also increase susceptibility.

  • diabetes mellitus is one disease that may lead to arteriosclerosis.

  • sex. Between the ages of 35 to 44 the death rate from coronary heart disease among white men is 6.1 times that amongst white women. This is thought to be due to hormonal influences. Overt manifestations are rare in either sex before the age of 40 because more than a 75 percent narrowing of the arteries must occur before blood flow is seriously impeded.

  • aging brings about degenerative arterial changes such as dilatation, tortuosity, thickening and loss of elasticity.

  • physical inactivity increases the chances of complications developing, but the disease effects both the active and sedentary.

  • personality type, especially type A (discussed elsewhere) appear to predispose individuals to a range of C-V problems.

  • lifestyle considerations can contribute depending upon diet, stress levels etc.

Cholesterol, a name that carries very fearful implications for many executives and hamburger eaters! As a natural part of our metabolism it has an important role to play in human life. It is the major sterol in the human body and is found throughout the animal kingdom. Whilst seldom occluding insignificant amounts in higher plants, they do contain the therapeutically important phytosterols.

Cholesterol is found in all cells of the body, primarily as a structural component of cell membranes, but it has other vital important functions. Stored in the adrenals, testes, and ovaries, it is converted to hormones such as the sex hormones (androgens and estrogen’s) and the adrenal corticoids(including cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone). In the liver, cholesterol is the precursor of the bile acids which when secreted into the intestine to aid in the digestion of food, especially fats.

It has been implicated as a major factor in the development of many cardiovascular disease, but especially arterio-sclerosis. This disease involves a process of fatty deposit buildup on the lining of large and medium-sized arteries. The presence of fatty deposits, called plaques, leads to a loss of elasticity and a narrowing of vessels and this constriction to blood-flow ultimately deprives organs of their blood supply. Clots may lodge in arteries supplying the heart and cause a heart attack, or the brain and so cause a stroke.

Diets rich in saturated fats, cholesterol, and calories appear to be chiefly responsible for high blood cholesterol, and such diets are therefore believed to promote atherosclerosis. However, the plaque forming tendency of cholesterol is influenced by the type of lipoproteins that transport it in the blood. The low-density lipoproteins are clearly atherogenic, but the high-density lipoproteins appear to prevent accumulation of cholesterol in the tissues. The blood levels of these lipoproteins is partially governed by dietary factors, especially the type of vegetable lipids (phytosterols) eaten.

This highlights the value of plants, both as medicine and nutrition for such health problems. The processes involved are complex and not understood. Plants provide a way to balance cholesterol absorption in a way that has evolved a sour bodies evolved, effecting fat metabolism and blood chemistry in an inherently integrated manner. As medical research has focused on this issue, a number of common dietary components are revealing themselves to be active in lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. It is not always known how they achieve it though.

Cayenne pepper and other plants that contain the phenolic compound capsaicin have a well demonstrated effect in lowering blood cholesterol levels, as does the widely used spice Fenugreek. Caraway is another aromatic spice with demonstrable cholesterol lowering properties. A whole range of Asian herbal remedies new to western medicine are proving to be valuable in this field, Emblica officinalis; and Ligustrum lucidum are examples.

Garlic and Onion have an international reputation as remedies for lowering blood pressure and generally improving the health of the cardiovascular system. A recent study was conducted on two groups, one consisting of 20 healthy volunteers who were fed Garlic for 6 months and the other of 62 patients with coronary heart disease and raised serum cholesterol. Beneficially changes were found in all involved and reached a peak at the end of 8 months. The improvement in cholesterol levels persisted throughout the 2 months of clinical follow-up. The clinicians concluded that the essential oil of Garlic possessed a distinct hypolipidemic, or fat reducing, action in both healthy people and patients with coronary heart disease.

An abhorrent technique used in studying cholesterol and arterio-sclerosis is to feed a high fat-high cholesterol diet to rats or other laboratory animals. This leads to increased levels of fats in the liver, and cholesterol and triglycerides in blood serum, liver and kidneys. A common finding is that when Garlic oil is fed to animals maintained on the high fat-high cholesterol diets, there is a significant reduction of cholesterol levels, often nearing those seen in untreated control animals. This strongly points to the Garlic oil enhancing the breakdown of dietary cholesterol and fatty acids. Paper after paper have been published repeating these findings, findings well known amongst medical herbalist’s.

Great attention is being given by Indian research workers to the value of such findings in humans. A number of clinical comparisons of the influence of Garlic have been published. In one example a group of volunteers were given a fat-rich diet for 7 days and on the 8th day the fasting blood was analyzed for cholesterol and other fats. They were then given a fat rich diet with Garlic for 7 days and on the 15th day the fasting blood was analyzed again. On the fat rich diet the cholesterol levels were significantly increased as compared to normal diet. When Garlic was added to the fat-rich diet for 7 days, it significantly reduced the serum cholesterol levels.

Garlic possesses the ability to reduce the tendency for unnecessary clotting to occur within the blood vessels. It appears to work on the ‘stickiness’ of blood platelets, reducing aggregation and inhibiting the release of clotting factors in the blood. This is thought to be a property of allicin, an unique thiosulfinate in Garlic, well known for its strong antibiotic and antifungal properties. An exciting new finding is that Garlic can work selectively, inhibiting the synthesis of enzymes involved in plaque formation whilst sparing the vascular synthesis of important prostaglandin’s. This would make it a safe& effective anti-thrombotic agent. Following studies on the effect of raw Garlic on normal blood cholesterol level in men, the research scientists advocated its daily use in order to lower one’s blood cholesterol. Traditional use of both Garlic and Onion in the treatment of hypertension are being supported by research. It was recently found that Onion oil contains a blood pressure lowering prostaglandin. Interestingly, the blood pressure normalizing and cholesterol lowering action of Garlic are not lost in cooking, whilst the anti-microbial effects appear to be.

Actions indicated for the processes behind this disease

Cardiac & Vascular Tonics help support the tissue of the cardiovascular system, possibly maintaining flexibility and tone in effected vessels.

Circulatory Stimulants promote the circulation of blood, and thus oxygen availability etc., in the face of the increased vascular resistance, characteristic of this condition.

Peripheral Vaso-dilators have an obvious value due to their potential for lessening the impact of vessel blockage.

Hypotensive are indicated to help lower elevated blood pressure.

Nervines will be indicated if stress is an issue (and when isn’t it!). They will usually also act as anti-spasmodics.

Anti-spasmodics will help relax the muscular coats of the arteries as well as the muscles the peripheral vessels pass through.

System support

The cardiovascular system has to be the focus of tonic attention. If any secondary problems have developed in other organs of the body due to Ischemia resulting from the arteriosclerosis, then this must be attended to. Common sites for such problems are the kidney, eyes and brain.

Specific Remedies

Linden blossom has a reputation as a specific in such cases, as do Garlic, Fenugreek, Turmeric and other spices of that kind.

One possible prescription:

Hawthorn — 2 parts
Linden Blossom — 1 part
Yarrow — 1 part
Cramp Bark — 1 part
Ginkgo — 1 part
to 2.5ml of tincture combination 3 times a day
Garlic should be used as a dietary supplement.
There is no co-incidence that this suggested prescription has close similarities to ones for hypertension. There is a strong
correlation in etiologies and in specific remedies. This combination supplies the following actions:

Cardiac & Vascular Tonics (Hawthorn, Linden Blossom, Yarrow, Cramp Bark, Ginkgo, Garlic)

Peripheral Vaso-dilators (Ginkgo, Yarrow, Garlic)

Hypotensive (Hawthorn, Linden Blossom, Yarrow, Cramp Bark, Garlic)

Nervines (Linden Blossom, Cramp Bark)

Anti-spasmodics (Hawthorn, Linden Blossom, Cramp Bark, Ginkgo)

Broader Context of Treatment

Evidence suggests that a diet with less saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt; weight control; avoidance of cigarettes; more exercise;
and early detection and control of hypertension can, if implemented early enough in life, delay atherosclerosis.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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