Carotenes: A double-whammy against atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening of the arteries,” is at the root of many serious cardiovascular problems.

This dangerous buildup of fatty plaques on the inner walls of the blood vessels can cause a narrowing of the vessel’s internal diameter, restricting blood circulation. These plaques can also rupture and form clots that obstruct blood flow, which can lead to stroke and heart attack.

Generally, this fat buildup is formed by low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” form of cholesterol. Therefore, targeting LDL is believed to be one way to prevent atherosclerotic plaques from forming in the first place.

A great place to start is with diet.

For example, when choosing fats for cooking, seed oils have proven to be most effective at lowering LDL levels. A diet high in pulses like beans, legumes, lentils and peas also has shown the ability to reduce LDL, due in part to the fiber they contain.

As far as nutrients go, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for anyone looking to lower LDL. Omega-3s raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” type of cholesterol that helps shuttle LDL through the body for processing and excretion.

There’s another dietary nutrient that’s been investigated for lowering cholesterol — and it looks quite promising in the battle to combat atherosclerosis…

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Carotenes help fight artery-clogging fat

Carotenes, bioactive antioxidant compounds found in yellow, orange and green fruits and vegetables, are believed to have the potential to check atherosclerosis. But many studies have been inconclusive on this point.

That’s why a team of researchers from IDIBAPS and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) studied 204 people between the ages of 50 and 70. The researchers measured two parameters in these participants: the concentration of carotenes in their blood and the presence of atherosclerotic plaques in their carotid arteries.

“The study concludes that the greater the concentration of carotenes in the blood, the lesser the atherosclerotic burden, particularly in women,” says Gemma Chiva Blanch, a professor and researcher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). “So, we can confirm that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and thus in carotenes lowers the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.”

The study results showed elevated levels of carotene in those who followed diets rich in fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet. In fact, the researchers found a higher adherence to a Mediterranean eating pattern was linked with increased alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and total carotene blood concentrations. That’s good news because previous research found it’s also one of the easiest diets to stick to.

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A double-whammy against cholesterol and inflammation

This study didn’t present any reasoning as to why carotenes protect against atherosclerosis. But past research in humans and mice found the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A helps protect against atherosclerosis development by reducing the amount of LDL in the blood.

Another theory has to do with the anti-inflammatory action of carotenes. For years, the cause of atherosclerosis was believed to be the cholesterol ingested from high-fat foods like red meat and dairy products. However, more recently it’s been theorized that cholesterol is always in the body and doesn’t cause much harm until combined with inflammation.

Where the problem starts, according to inflammation theory, is when systemic inflammation impacts the walls of the arteries. This inflammation causes LDL to stick to the artery walls, leading to the clogging that’s characteristic of atherosclerosis.

The researchers suggest further studies with a larger group are needed to establish causality between increased carotenes and lower atherosclerotic plaque.

But carotenes have shown anti-inflammatory properties in numerous studies, so their protective effect against atherosclerosis could be due to this action as well as LDL reduction.

Regardless of the mechanism, the research indicates that getting plenty of carotenes in your diet can benefit your cardiovascular health. Strive for five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, especially from these sources that are high in carotenes:

  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Pumpkins
  • Tomatoes
  • Cantaloupes
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Apricots

In this study, researchers discovered only 10 participants were taking antioxidant supplements, meaning these high concentrations of carotenes were mainly being achieved through food intake. But if you can’t manage enough servings, supplements are a great option.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!


Carotene-rich diet linked to lower fat levels in arteries — Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Total carotene plasma concentrations are inversely associated with atherosclerotic plaque burden: A post-hoc analysis of the DIABIMCAP cohort — Clinical Nutrition

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.