By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Is it possible to have a heart attack even though your arteries are not blocked? The answer, surprisingly is “yes”. Heart attacks also can be caused by arterial spasms, a condition known as coronary spasms, Prinzmetal’s angina or vasospastic angina.
There are not many reliable sources of data about the prevalence of this condition but one study estimates that 2% of all people who have angina have this condition. Since the Center for Disease Control estimates that 4.4% of Americans have angina, that means that up to 290,000 of us experience artery spasms.
What causes artery spasms? Are artery spasms a serious condition? What natural remedies, of any, reduce your chances of having artery spasms.
What Are Artery Spasms?
Your arteries are like pipes, yes, but they are also something else. Your arteries are muscles, at least they behave like muscles in many respects. Arteries are lined with a special layer of cells smooth muscle tissue called endothelium. Like all organs with muscle fibers, the arteries can contract and they can relax.
An artery which has a spasm appears normal before and after the spasm. But while the spasm is occurring, your artery seizes up, contracts violently, squeezing off blood flow, and can cause a heart attack.
Natural Remedies for Artery Spasms
Stop Smoking To Prevents Artery Spasms. Smoking blocks the natural ability of your arteries to relax. In 1997, a group of scientists from Japan studied the effects of smoking on a rabbit arteries. This group, from Kumamoto University School of Medicine, in Honjo, Kumamoto City, Japan, fed the rabbits an extract made of cigarette smoke. They then tested the dilation of the arteries of the rabbits, and found that the more cigarette extract the rabbits ate, the less their arteries relaxed. Specifically, they discovered that smoking suppresses certain chemicals which cause your arteries to relax, including nitric oxide, stable metabolites of nitric oxide, superoxide dismutase, and dimethyl sulfoxide. The team then tested whether anti-oxidants (substances which scavenge free radicals from the blood) could reverse the process. The tests found that, indeed, adding anti-oxidants after cigarette smoking extracts could block the damage that cigarettes did to the rabbit’s arteries, allowing the arteries to relax.
Vitamin C Relaxes Your Arteries. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which enhances the natural ability of your arteries to relax, scientists have found. axation response, according to several studies, including a study from the same team from Japan which performed the rabbit study. This time, the team studies 15 humans to determine whether Vitamin C helps the arteries to relax. All the participants in the study were smokers. After consuming Vitamin C, the arteries of the participants dilated almost 70%.
But wait a minute before you rush out to buy loads more orange juice.
In 2000, scientists from Australia set out to verify that Vitamin C provided long term protection for smokers from arterial dysfunction. That team, from the Department of Cardiology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia tested 20 smokers with an average age of 36.
In the study the arteries of participants were examined 2 hours after they were given 2 grams of Vitamin C. The participants were then given 1 gram of Vitamin C daily for 8 weeks. The scientists found that , yes, the arteries of the smokers dilated in the short term. But there was no effect in the long term.
3. Combination of Vitamin E and C Can Block Artery Damage. Damage to the smooth endothelial lining of your arteries can be reversed by a “chronic” application of Vitamin E and C, a 2004 study has found.
Scientists from the National Defense Medical College in Japan fed 15 patients 500 mg of Vitamin E in combination with 1 gram of Vitamin C daily for 4 weeks and found that artery dilation increased by 55%.
The improvements only lasted as long as the vitamins were taken, however, and arterial dysfunction returned after the participants stopped taking the vitamins.
4. Exercise Causes Arterial Vasal Activity to Slow. Unlike other kinds of coronary attacks, which can be triggered by exercise, arterial spasms tend to occur at night, when you are at rest.
When you are inactive, your parasympathetic nervous system is in charge of triggering your body’s muscular functions --this is the system that makes you breathe and your heart beat. Scientists have found that exercise suppresses the parasympathetic nervous system, making you less likely to experience an arterial spasm.
5. Reduce Saturated Fat To Lower Risk of Artery Spasm. Scientists believe that saturated fat plays a role in triggering artery spasms in some cases. A 1998 study from the National Cardiology Research Centre in Russia theorized that the mechanism works like this. Saturated fat increases resistance to blood flow in arteries. This resistance makes it more difficult for your cells to actively transport a certain type of dangerous cholesterol (Very low density lipoprotein or “VLDL”) so your artery cells instead start to use a passive system which doesn’t work as well.
As a result, a very high level of saturated fatty acids begin to hang around and circulate in your blood. In this unregulated blood environment, sodium and calcium enter into your cells freely and magnesium and potassium leak out of your cells, triggering what the scientists called a “vicious circle” of high salt and high calcium blood levels.
The high salt and high calcium disturb the connective tissue of your arteries and make them hypersensitive, which is the direct cause of artery spasms.
6. Add Vegetables and Fruits Rich in Antioxidants to Relax Your Arteries. There is a battle going on in your arteries as you age. Your arteries need nitric oxide to relax. Nitric oxide is the same gas that dentists sometimes use to help you relax. It’s called “laughing gas”.
As you age, your body loses more and more of its ability to express nitric oxide in your arteries because of oxidative stress. As a 2014 study from the University of Boulder in Colorado led by Dr. Rachel Gioscia -Ryan put it so well “ age-related arterial endothelial dysfunction is largely caused by your body’s loss of its ability to express nitric oxide (laughing gas) because of oxidative stress.”
You can counter this oxidative stress --- this “fire” -- by dousing the fire every single day with anti-oxidants. The water hose are certain foods and spices. Fruits and vegetables rich in anti-oxidants can “scavenge” free radicals which otherwise would damage the interior of your artery walls.
As we have seen, Vitamin C and Vitamin E are two of the anti-oxidants which have proven to have a direct, if somewhat temporary, effect on countering the causes of arterial spasms.
But what the research underscores is this fundamental fact. We really should be eating a non-spasmodic diet not as a temporary measure to counter bad habits which trigger spasms but as a constant way of living. Anti-oxidant fruits and vegetables should not be the side dish of our diets --- they should be the main dish. To that end, you should add bell peppers (richer in Vitamin C than oranges), onions, garlic and green vegetables.
7. Add Curcumin Spice to Relax Your Arteries. You should also use certain spices. Curcumin has been proven effective in reducing arterial dysfunction, according to a 2013 led by Dr. B.S. Fleenor, also of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Curcumin is a spice which resembles ginger but is yellow. It is an ingredient in curry and tumeric and is what gives these spices their yellow color.
In this study on mice, the researchers were able to demonstrate that curcumin restores the ability of the arteries of older mice to express nitric oxide at a level comparable to young mice. Curcumin actually restores the elasticity of the arteries. Of course, we are not mice, so more studies will be needed to verify this result. But in the mean time, it doesn’t hurt to find ways to add curcumin to your diet.