Alternative Causes of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a disease affecting arterial blood vessels. It is characterized by the deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances that build up in the inner lining of an artery. These deposits are called plaques.

The exact cause is not known but research suggests a chronic response to inflammation caused by the presence of substances such as elevated insulin or elevated homocysteine levels is a good candidate. A test called C Reactive Protein measures inflammation, and several studies have shown that an elevated CRP score is positively correlated with atherosclerosis, diabetes, and autoimmune disease.

In fact, it’s a well-known fact that diabetics who receive insulin treatments on a daily basis are more likely to develop heart disease. Of course, most medical personnel tell diabetics to lower fat intake which makes the problem worse. A lower fat intake means a high carb intake which means more insulin must be injected, which further worsens plaquing.

Many studies have confirmed that if you drip insulin into an artery, the artery will become inflamed. Eventually, fatty plaques will build up and block the artery. Here’s a study that demonstrates that arterial plaques are more likely to form in the presence of chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels. A direct quote from this paper:

“The results reported here show that insulin stimulates the synthesis of lipid in the arterial wall. The fact that such a striking effect was found in a short time suggests that sustained elevation of circulating insulin would result in the accumulation of important amounts of lipid.


It is well known that maturity-onset diabetics, who have high serum-insulin levels, lay down fat in their adipose tissue. It is suggested that, by the same mechanism, they can also accumulate fat in their arterial walls. This process would act for many years, long before the diabetes mellitus became clinically apparent. Indeed, a vascular catastrophe may well precede the appearance of clinical diabetes, and appropriate dietary treatment at that time may prevent it ever appearing.”

Current medical mythology promotes the idea that the plaques develop in this scenario because there is extra cholesterol in the bloodstream.

But reason suggests that the cholesterol is not the cause of the inflammation, but a response to it. High levels of insulin cause damage to the arterial walls. The body sends cholesterol to the site to repair the damage.

The advice to doctors to prescribe a low-fat diet and drugs to lower cholesterol is based on the same logic that would tell doctors to avoid Band-aids because they cause cuts and scratches.

Essentially, our government health agencies are telling the American public that cholesterol is bad, just as Band-Aids are bad. Band-Aids must cause cut and scratches, because every time a Band-Aid is seen on someone, there’s a cut or a scratch underneath it.

Okay if Cholesterol is Innocent, What Does Cause the Arteries to Harden?

More recent research implicates the following factors in causing inflammation and arterial damage:

  • Carbohydrate consumption, and the high blood sugar levels and elevated insulin levels which are a result of a diet high in carbohydrates. This is the diet that for the past 40 years, the AHA, NIH and other government nutritional agencies have been recommending. Chronically high blood sugar can be measured by a test called the HbA1c.

Note the quote from this study:

“Carbohydrate intake was positively associated with atherosclerotic progression, particularly when the glycemic index was high. Polyunsaturated fat intake was positively associated with progression when replacing other fats but not when replacing carbohydrate or protein. Monounsaturated and total fat intakes were not associated with progression.”


  • Sulfur deficiency. According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, “Sulfur is known as a healing mineral, and a sulfur deficiency often leads to pain and inflammation associated with various muscle and skeletal disorders. Sulfur plays a role in many biological processes, one of which is metabolism. Sulfur is present in insulin, the essential hormone that promotes the utilization of sugar derived from carbohydrates for fuel in muscle and fat cells.”

    And she says that sulfur is a critical substrate for the production of vitamin D3 sulfate and cholesterol sulfate, molecules which are protective against atherosclerosis and heart disease. See this paper.

  • Deficiencies of the vitamins folic acid (B9), pyridoxine (B6), or B12 (cyanocobalamin) leading to high homocysteine levels in the blood.
  • Deficiencies in nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. The increase in the consumption of processed, low nutrient foods is a likely cause of these nutrient deficiencies.
  • Lack of physical exercise. Regular exercise helps arteries by boosting the production of nitric oxide by the cells lining the arteries, which helps circulation. And new research in mice suggests that exercise stimulates the bone marrow to produce new cells for the arterial lining, which replace aging cells and repair damaged arteries. Even just a short walk each day is helpful.
  • Elevated oxidative damage within the body, especially oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles. Oxidative damage and free radicals increase arterial inflammation. In addition, atherosclerosis develops from low-density lipoprotein molecules (LDL) becoming oxidized by free radicals, particularly oxygen free radicals (ROS). The blood in your arteries contains plenty of oxygen and this is where atherosclerosis develops.

This increased cellular oxidation can be caused by:

    • high consumption of fructose and a lack of protective cholesterol in the diet. See this paper.
    • a low intake of protective antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, taurine, curcumin and substances such as CoQ10, L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid which interact with and support the functions of the antioxidant vitamins.
    • consumption of pasteurized milk products (the heat damages the milk protein)
    • charred food
    • pesticides
    • smoking
    • high ferrous iron levels in the blood
    • environmental pollutants
    • excessive alcohol consumption
    • consumption of hydrogenated fats and polyunsaturated refined vegetable oils, both of which contain trans fats.
  • Chronic Stress, especially stresses around mealtimes. Studies have shown that if you are stressed or scared when you eat, your body does not absorb the nutrients as well.
  • Some researchers believe that atherosclerosis may be accelerated by the body’s inflammatory response to microbial or viral infections of the arterial wall cells. For more information on this theory, see the last chapter of Uffe Ravnskov’s book Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You.
  • There is also evidence that an iodine deficiency can promote arterial plaques.
  • And finally, there is also evidence that a copper deficiency can cause arterial plaque. See this study and this blog post.

Atherosclerotic Plaque Composition

Most medical personnel believe that sclerotic plaques in the arteries are composed of saturated fat and cholesterol. But studies have shown this is not the case. Arterial plaques are actually composed of the following:

  • Fibrous repair tissue, largely collagen = 68% of the plaque volume.
  • Calcium deposits = 8%.
  • Inflammatory cells = 7%
  • Foam cells, (enlarged white blood cells full of debris) = 1%.
  • Lipid (fat)-rich necrotic core = 16%. (Kragel et al, 1989)

In addition, 74% of all of the fats in the plaque core are unsaturated fats, not saturated as is commonly believed. (Cite here and here).

Note that refined vegetable oils (which are the recommended fats of the American Heart Association) are polyunsaturated fats, which have been chemically damaged and oxidized via the high heat refining process, and heart disease has been on the increase since the 1900s when vegetable oils were introduced in the American diet.

Resources for Further Reading

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