We all know that the reason for heart attacks and strokes is because blood vessels get clogged up with plaques. Plaque formation is tied up with our bad habits – too much smoking, drinking and eating.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institute were curious about the plaques that “kill” – are they ticking time bombs formed in our youth or relatively recent acquisitions ?
Radio dating atherosclerotic plaques
The study began by analyzing a couple of carotid plaques removed during carotid stenosis surgery.
Carotid stenosis is a surgery which cleans out the carotid pipe (major blood vessel carrying blood into the brain). The reason the pipe is cleaned out, is because tests indicate that the blood flow to the brain is impeded, resulting in oxygen levels not being sufficient. People suffering from a blocked carotid artery show signs of having suffered mini-strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).
The plaques were then dated, by looking at how much radioactive carbon (14C ) was inside them.
The amount of 14C has changed over the years, thanks in part to the super powers firing off atomic bombs in obscure locations during the 1950s and 1960s and a few other nuclear incidents. The amount of radioactive carbon in something , depends on when it was formed, so measuring the radioactivity in the plaques, is a way to calculate when the plaque was in fact made.
“Killer” plaques made yesterday
Well not quite yesterday, but definitely not a long time ago. In all the patients, the big plug that was blocking the carotid artery, was a relatively new acquisition. The plaques were typically between 3 and 5 years old, the patients on the other hand were a lot older, on average 68 years.
Insulin levels contributing to killer plaque presence
The other notable finding from this study, was that the age of the plaques, was directly related to the blood levels of insulin – the higher the level of insulin the newer the plaque.
But the new plaques were probably more dangerous than the older plaques because they were more unstable. Stability is significant when it comes to atherosclerotic plaques because the danger of dislodging is higher. Strokes and other ischemic incidents happen when the bits of the plaque break off and lodge in smaller brain blood vessels.
Rein in insulin
The how, the why, the what are still a little fuzzy but insulin is definitely part of the story of atherosclerotic plaque formation.
So reining in the insulin is a good way to cut back on the formation of new, potentially lethal, clots.Carotid Plaque Age Is a Feature of Plaque Stability Inversely Related to Levels of Plasma Insulin. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (4): e18248. Sara Hägg, Mehran Salehpour, Peri Noori, Jesper Lundström, Göran Possnert, Rabbe Takolander, Peter Konrad, Stefan Rosfors, Arno Ruusalepp, Josefin Skogsberg, Jesper Tegnér, Johan Björkegren.
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Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below…..