15 Symptoms of Arterial Plaque and How To Prevent Heart Disease

symptoms of arterial plaque

Given that heart disease is the number one killer, wouldn’t it be mighty fine to know if you have symptoms of arterial plaque?  Turns out, you can pretty much self-test for arterial plaque by seeing if you have one or more of 15 symptoms. Read and watch the video to see if you have symptoms of arterial plaque and what to do about it through diet and supplementation.

symptoms of arterial plaque

AS IS my tendency, I was cruising the Interwebs bumping into various articles of interest when one in particular grabbed my attention for the simple reason that it spoke to something I’ve been concerned about.

Cold feet.

We all have various ailments that compete for our attention; hopefully, most are benign or of little consequence. Sometimes, though, those niggling discomforts are the tip of an iceberg lurking below the surface of our awareness into which we’ll eventually collide.

And so it is with symptoms of arterial plaque, a particularly deadly iceberg often lurking beneath our awareness that may signal its presence with an array of observable maladies; namely:

  1. Lower back pain
  2. Heart palpitations
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Pain in the calves, hips or thighs
  5. Blurred vision or loss of vision on one side
  6. Erectile dysfunction
  7. Sweating
  8. Cold feet
  9. An ear crease
  10. Chest pain
  11. Dizziness
  12. Hair loss/baldness
  13. Migraines
  14. Depression
  15. Nausea

Now, just because you may experience one or more of these symptoms of arterial plaque, does that mean you’re about to have a heart attack due to clogged arteries?


But that “cold feet” symptom nevertheless did leap out at me simply because I’ve experienced this intermittently without explanation. When I saw that it was potentially related to clogged arteries, my mind leaped to a video by Dr. Michael Greger that reviewed studies showing that heart disease starts in childhood.

In fact, Dr. Greger concludes this video with this ominous warning:

If there is anyone watching this video that is older than ten years of age, the choice likely isn’t whether or not to eat healthy to prevent heart disease; it’s whether or not you want to reverse the heart disease you already have.

In this article, you’ll discover:

  • Why everything from lower back pain to nausea can result from clogged arteries;
  • How a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease; and
  • Two supplements, among several vitamins and herbs, that might be unknown to you but could be helpful to, in effect, eat away arterial plaque.

Let’s dive in…


15 Symptoms of Clogged Arteries

Before I go any further with this, don’t be a hypochondriac.  From time to time most of us experience one or more of these 15 symptoms, and that doesn’t mean you’re about to get a heart attack. However, as Dr. Greger indicated, if you’re over 10 years of age, and haven’t been a vegan or vegetarian most of your life, it’s likely that you’re dealing with some amount of arterial plaque, whether you know it or not.

Given that heart disease is the number one killer of us humans in the industrialized world, do yourself the kindness to consider if your diet and lifestyle choices (such as couch surfing) combined with a few of the following 15 symptoms of arterial plaque might be your iceberg.

Let’s begin with the incontrovertible proposition that having a healthy heart and brain is important for living a long and healthy life, and that the health of those organs begin with the health of your arteries. As WebMD explains, blood flows easily through the body in someone with healthy arteries, but if clogged  with arterial plaque, blood will flow slowly, or get blocked.

It looks like this:

Symptoms of arterial plaque

So, read the following list of potential symptoms of arterial plaque sourced from Health and Fitness Cheat Sheet, and check which of them you may be experiencing. I’ll let you be the judge of how many instigate your visit to a cardiologist, or at least, get you to tweak your diet and supplementation.

(1) Lower back pain

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine notes lower back pain is often due to less blood getting to that area of your body, possibly from clogged arteries, causing the disks between your vertebrae to ache.

Atherosclerotic plaque clogging the arteries feeding our spine may lead to low back pain, disc degeneration, and sciatic nerve irritation, says Dr. Greger. Because lower back pain is so prevalent and may be a symptom of arterial plaque, you may want to watch Dr. Greger’s video on the topic:

(2) Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations are not always felt like some intense beating. Harvard Health Publishing says palpitations can feel like fluttering or murmuring instead of pounding. If you feel an uneasiness in your chest, perhaps it’s a sign that something in your body needs checking. As WebMD suggests, this can be a symptom of clogged arteries, which eventually can lead to a heart attack.

(3) Shortness of breath

Health.com explains a heaviness in your chest that affects your ability to breathe may mean there’s a problem with your arterial function.

If you’re consistently doing of cardio-based exercises and the symptoms aren’t improving, check with your doctor about what you can do. Even if the arteries are in fine shape, you could have dangerous fluid buildup in your heart.

(4) Pain in the calves, hips, or thighs

Every friend of mine older than 50 who still runs complains of — for the lack of a better word — calf seizures that happen while running.  I’ve had them too, and is one of the reasons I mostly switched from running on trails or the street to running up stairs. For some reason, running stairs seems to be a bit easier on my calves.

(Note: the best thing I’ve found for preventing these calve “seizures” if deep calve stretching before running. Here’s a video. I do the stretch beginning at 4:30 without the band.)

Unfortunately, for most of us joint aches are a natural byproduct of aging. What’s not natural is for the aching (pain) to gradually increase without a clear reason, particularly if this happens in the hips, calves, or thighs when walking or running. If this happens, you might have peripheral arterial disease, which occurs when there’s a buildup of fatty plaque in your leg arteries. Dr. Michael Miller tells the Health.com that if you have this type of disease, you have a 50% chance of also having a blockage in a heart artery.

Again, just because you get aches and pains in your lower extremists when you jog doesn’t mean you’re about to drop dead from a heart attack, but if this is happening along with some of the other symptoms of arterial plaque listed here, get some medical attention.

(5) Blurred vision or loss of vision on one side

Blocked arteries bad for your heart and can ruin your brain for the simple reason that they can cause a stroke, or a “mini-stroke”.

During a mini-stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack, you may lose your vision on just one side or experience issues with your eyes you didn’t have before.

(6) Erectile dysfunction

Hey, it happens. And it can be a sign that your arteries need some deep cleaning.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains clogged arteries can reduce blood flow to your genitals, which can induce this issue.

You should ask a screening for heart disease if you have erectile dysfunction. A recent study found if more men with ED checked their hearts, millions of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented over the next 20 years.

(7) Sweating

The air is cool, but you’re sweating?  What’s with that?

Sudden hot flashes and episodes of sweating could be a sign of clogged arteries. Healthline reports that when it’s your arteries that are the issue, sweating is often accompanied by other uncomfortable chest symptoms, like pain and heart palpitations.

Another sign that your body is overworking to pump enough blood is feeling faint while sweating. So, if the weather is cool and your sweating (without exercising), are feeling chest pain and are faint, see a doctor.

(8) Cold feet

Ah, the bane of my existence!

When my cold feet first started happening with some regularity, I wondered if my blood sugar was too high; after all, my father got type 2 diabetes when he was just a little older than me. Perhaps it’s genetic, I thought.  But various tests for blood sugar showed mine was quite low.

What else could it be?

Mercury or other heavy metals, perhaps?

The literature on the topic suggests that heavy metals mess with just about every biological function in our bodies, including the thyroid, and one symptom of hypothyroidism is cold feet. Had my thyroid checked. Seems fine. And just had all my silver/mercury dental amalgams removed (more on that in another post), so will see if that warms my feet.

Although I hope it’s not true for me, Cleveland Clinic says peripheral artery disease — the same condition that can give you pain in your extremities — can also make your feet cold.

If you notice discomfort in your legs and a chill in your feet, ask your physician to check for pulses in your feet. A worsening of this condition can ultimately lead to a loss of the limb, so you want to get this addressed quickly.

(UPDATE: A blood test determined that I’m low on vitamin B12. Supplementing with it has largely solved the issue of cold feet.)

(9) Creased ear

Yeah, this one’s strange.

Reader’s Digest explains that a crease in your earlobe that goes diagonally from your ear canal to the bottom edge of your lobe could signify poor circulation, which can also mean your arteries are clogged.

Perhaps a more sane explanation it that such a crease is simply a sign of aging that some of us display. Again, by itself, probably no big deal, but if this is one of several symptoms on this list of 15 that you’re experiencing get wary and get it checked out.

(10) Chest pain

Bel Marra Health explains you may think your chest pain is the sign of an oncoming heart attack. In reality, it might not that severe just yet. It could mean you’re feeling tightness, heaviness, or pressure from reduced blood flow instead. Clogged arteries can ultimately cause a heart attack or stroke in the long run, however, so take your pain seriously.

I did.

In my early thirties I became convinced that there was something wrong with my heart, because I often got a feeling of tightness and discomfort in the left side of my chest. At the time, I was dating a women living in Olympia, WA, and her father was a cardiologist. Hoped a plane and flew up there to get checked out.  They tested my heart in every way imaginable and concluded that my heart was in great shape. What I was experiencing were normal pings and pains of my regimen of strenuous exercise, they concluded.

Moral of the story:  Don’t panic, but if you experience chest pains consistently, see a doctor.

(11) Dizziness

Dizziness can be a sign of dehydration, overexertion, or perhaps a night of too much alcohol. Or it can be a sign of something serious. Bel Marra Health indicates that feeling weak or light-headed are common signs of clogged arteries or stroke. If your dizziness is accompanied by a loss of balance and frequent falling, then plaque buildup could be to blame.

(12) Hair loss and baldness

Hair loss, particularly male-pattern baldness, strongly predicts clogged arteries and heart disease, Reader’s Digest reports. One study involving over 7,000 men and women found those who experienced moderate to severe baldness had a doubled risk of dying from heart disease regardless of gender.

OK, so there’s some correlation between baldness and arterial plaque, but common sense tells us that everyone with a shiny scalp or a scant scalp isn’t destined to have a heart attack. Again, this should only be of concern if it’s part of a pattern of symptoms that may be related to arterial plaque.

(13) Migraines

Health.com says that 40% of patients with cardiovascular disease experience severe headaches, and migraines with auras are linked to dysfunction with the heart, such as artery dysfunction.

If you get frequent migraines and experience a few more of the symptoms of arterial plaque listed here, go get checked out.

(14) Depression

Like many of these symptoms, I wouldn’t have guessed that depression could signal clogged arteries. The Heart Foundation reports depression and anxiety can put you at serious risk for all kinds of heart and artery problems. Moreover, depression can also affect healing time and is a huge risk factor for developing organ issues later in life.

(Read Dr Weil’s Four Alternatives To Anti-depressant Drugs.)

(15) Nausea

A million things could make you nauseous, but just like dizziness, migraines and depression, recurring nausea is a sign of a blocked artery, especially if you’re experiencing this symptom with chest pain or shortness of breath. Gastrointestinal pain and vomiting are also commonly associated with arterial issues, Livestrong.com says, so if all that’s going on with you, get a medical assessment.


Can The Right Diet Reverse Arterial Plaque?

There’s no doubt that the right diet can substantially reduce arterial plaque, but which diet?

Given the recent popularity of the low carb/high fat Keto Diet, I wanted to compare that way of eating to a plant-dominate diet relative to arterial/heart health.

Thankfully, Dr. Michael Greger accommodates me with his video, Low Carb Diets and Coronary Blood Flow.

Although it may be contrary to common sense, people going on low-carb/high fat diets may not see a rise in their cholesterol levels.

How is that possible given all the extra artery clogging saturated fat?

Answer: Weight loss by any means can drop cholesterol. An all-Twinkie diet could lower our cholesterol if we were unable to eat the dozen daily Twinkies necessary to keep up our weight; meaning, we experienced a caloric deficit from eating Twinkes.

Other things that can lower cholesterol:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cocaine

None are recommended, but they, like most anything that drops our weight, can drop our cholesterol. But just like chemo, tuberculosis and cocaine are far from idea methods to cut cholesterol, so is a low-carb/high-fat diet.

As Dr. Greger shows in the video above, a review of all the best studies done to date found that low-carb diets impair arterial function, as shown by a decrease in flow-mediated dilation—meaning low-carb/high-fat diets cripple people’s arteries. And, since this meta-analysis was published, another study found the same thing. A dietary pattern characterized by high protein and fat, low carbohydrate, was “associated with poorer peripheral small artery function”—again measuring blood flow into people’s limbs.

OK, peripheral circulation is great, but what about circulation in the coronary arteries that feed our heart?

There’s only been one study ever done measuring actual blood flow to the heart muscles of people eating low-carb diets. Dr. Richard Fleming, an accomplished nuclear cardiologist, enrolled 26 people into a comprehensive study of the effects of diet on cardiac function using the latest in nuclear imaging technology—so-called SPECT scans—enabling him to actually directly measure the blood flow within the coronary arteries.

Dr. Flemming then put them all on a healthy vegetarian diet. A year later, the scans were repeated. By that time, however, ten of the patients had jumped ship and climbed aboard the low-carb bandwagon. The good news about that is now Dr. Flemming had extensive imaging on ten people following a low-carb diet, and 16 following a healthy high-carb diet.

What would their hearts look like at the end of the year?

Those sticking to the vegetarian diet showed a reversal of their heart disease, as expected. Their partially clogged arteries literally got cleaned out. They had 20% less atherosclerotic plaque in their arteries at the end of the year than at the beginning.

What happened to those who abandoned the treatment diet, and switched over to the low-carb diet?

Their condition significantly worsened. 40 to 50% more artery clogging at the end of the year. In the video you can actually see the changes in blood flow for yourself.

This is the best science to date demonstrating the threat of low-carb diets, not just measuring risk factors, but actual blood flow in people’s hearts on different diets.

What about lifespan?

The reason we care about cardiac blood flow is we don’t want to die, at least not any time soon. To measure whether a low or high carb diet was associated with mortality, a meta-analysis was done. The recently published and showed that “low-carb diets were associated with a significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality”—meaning low-carbers have a shorter lifespan.

But remember this: In these cited studies, those on high-carb diets where not eating bread and pasta, but veggies and some fruit. Please don’t let this give you an excuse to substitute your steel-cut oatmeal for pastry.

Arterial plaque can be substantially diminished, says Dr. Stephen Sinatra, following an anti-inflammatory diet with the following attributes:

  • 40% of your calories should come from low-glycemic carbohydrates.
  • Protein should make up about another 20 to 25%. High quality, organic, lean meat and poultry, organic tofu, and free-range eggs are highly recommended, as is nonfarm-raised fish at the low-end of the mercury level scale.
  • The remaining 35% of your calories should come from healthy fats, such as organic avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and organic nuts—particularly almonds and walnuts.

For those of you who rather get a heart attack than eat broccoli, the next topic should be of interest.


Useful Supplements to Reverse Arterial Plaque

There’s a reason the word “supplements” is used in the phrase, “vitamin supplements” — these are meant to, and typically only work well when, supplementing a good diet.

Healthline suggests the following six supplements and herbs for Atherosclerosis:

If you’d like to see the references supporting this list of six, read the Healthline article.

My research into reversing arterial plaque/atherosclerosis suggests that a good systemic proteolytic enzyme formula could also be useful to help clear away arterial plaque, assuming your diet doesn’t keep adding it.


Jon Barron’s Proteolytic Enzyme Formula

According to supplement expert Jon Barron, a good systemic proteolytic enzyme should contain these enzymes:

  • Bromelain
  • Papain
  • Nattokinase
  • Seaprose-S
  • Serrapeptase

And this as well:

  • Rutin
  • Ginger
  • CMIK-pH+™ Mineral Blend (for pH buffering)

Naturally, Jon Barron’s formula, pHi-Zymes, contains the ingredients he recommends.

Update: John Barron’s company is no longer in business, and  therefore I suggest you consider Dr, Kim’s formula below.


Dr. Ben Kim’s Proteolytic Enzyme Formula

Dr. Ben Kim also has a formula that receives high marks from his customers.

His formula is called simply called Proteolytic Enzyme, and has the following ingredients:

Nattokinase – this fibrin-digesting enzyme is often used to:

  • Eliminate extraneous amounts of fibrin from the body
  • Promote normal blood viscosity (blood texture and flow)
  • Promote good overall cardiovascular health

Serrapeptase (Serratiopeptidase) – this protein-digesting enzyme is often used to:

  • Activate plasmin, a naturally occurring enzyme in the body that helps to break down fibrin
  • Promote muscle recovery after intense physical activity or injury
  • Boost energy

Ubiquinone (Pharmaceutical-Grade Co-Q10) – this coenzyme is often used to:

  • Facilitate energy (ATP) production
  • Decrease proliferation of free radicals
  • Promote maintenance of normal cardiovascular function

Amla – sourced from gooseberries, this enzyme is thought to:

  • Provide healthy tone to the nervous system

Bromelain – this protein-digesting enzyme is derived from pineapple and is thought to:

  • Promote healthy skin and a healthy immune system

Papain – this is also a protein-digesting enzyme that is often used to:

  • Reduce bloating and promote good digestion
  • Facilitate recovery from bruises and other tissue injuries

Rutin – this flavonoid component of the vitamin C complex is thought to:

  • Promote healthy blood vessels
  • Maintain connective tissue strength throughout the body (bones, teeth, capillaries)

Magnesium – this coenzyme/mineral is known to:

  • Help build and keep up healthy teeth and gums
  • Promote normal blood pressure
  • Promote good overall cardiovascular health


Your Takeaway

Remember these four things:

  1. Having one or two of these 15 symptoms of arterial plaque is mostly likely insufficient to worry about, but if you get up to three or more you might want to check with your doctor.
  2. You have a good chance to reverse arterial plaque by eating a diet rich in plant foods, and low-glycemic legumes and grains, and various supplements and herbs, such as those above listed.
  3. And, of course, it’s really helpful to move. If you can walk, do it a lot; up hills. If you have a bike, throw a leg over it and pedal. If you can do push-ups and squats, do them, one set after another until you’re breathless. Rest two minutes or less and do them again. Repeat.
  4. Heart disease is the number one killer of humans in the industrialized world, mostly due to poor lifestyle choices, so choose yours wisely.


Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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