See related entries for Angina, Circulation, and Heart Disease.


There are no symptoms in the early stages of atherosclerosis. Angina pectoris, or a strangling pain in the heart and center of the chest, emerges when atherosclerosis is advanced in the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis causes heart attack and stroke, either of which can be the first sign that advanced atherosclerosis has set in. 


What is Atherosclerosis?

From Modern Western Medicine

Atherosclerosis is the formation of cholesterol plaques that form like boils inside the arteries of the body, especially in the arteries leading to the heart and brain. It is the primary cause of most heart disease throughout the Western world. Atherosclerosis is caused by a diet rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.


From Traditional Medicine

While traditional healers accept the prevailing Western approach, they note that the liver, kidneys, and heart are all involved in the cause of the disorder. The liver processes fat and cholesterol and turns them into LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the cause of atherosclerosis). The kidneys control the heart (see the Five Element system explained in Part III) and directly influence blood pressure. Treatment, therefore, focuses on the liver, kidneys, and heart.


General Recommendations

  • Reduce or eliminate all foods high in fat and cholesterol, including red meat, the skin of chicken, eggs, and whole dairy products.
  • Increase whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruit, and beans.
  • Increase fiber, which lowers cholesterol.
  • Enjoy mild exercise, such as walking, daily.
  • Reduce blood cholesterol level to 180 mg/dL or lower.


Foods to Eat

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, corn, oats, and wheat
  • Fresh vegetables; a wide variety
  • Beans (especially healing for the kidneys)
  • Fruit
  • Low-fat white fish (see the section on Healing Foods, under Chinese medicine)
  • Chlorella (contains omega-3 polyunsaturated alpha-linolenic oils that lower blood cholesterol)


Foods to Avoid

  • Red meat (because of its fat and cholesterol content)
  • Eggs (for fat and cholesterol content)
  • Whole milk and other high-fat dairy products
  • The dark meat and skin of poultry, which is richer in fat than the white meat
  • High-fat vegetable foods, such as avocados and olives
  • Nut butters, such a peanut butter, tahini, and sesame butter


Herbs to Treat Atherosclerosis

  • Garlic lowers cholesterol and raises HDL and prevents the blood from forming clots, which is the process by which atherosclerosis gives rise to heart attacks and strokes. Garlic capsules can also be taken.

Form                                                     Dosage

Fresh garlic bulbs                                  7 – 28 cloves daily

Dried whole garlic cloves                       5 – 20 g daily                           

  • Ginkgo biloba increase blood flow and decreases stickiness or viscosity of blood. Dose: 40 mg, three times a day; use for four to six weeks.
  • Capsaicin: found in red pepper; lowers cholesterol, lowers the tendency of blood to clot
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha): contains flavonoids that prevent that prevent blood vessels from constricting, thereby preventing angina pain. Lowers cholesterol and helps reverse atherosclerosis. Dosage: 80 – 200 mg per day
  • Gugulipid: a plant extract that lowers LDL substantially and raises HDL. Dosage: 25 mg, three times a day
  • Oat bran (reduces blood cholesterol): water soluble fiber. Dosage: ½ – 2 cups daily
  • Bitterroot: tincture, 10 – 40 drops daily
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Reishi mushrooms



  • Walking (the best exercise for all people with atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease)
  • Bicycling on flat surfaces (not to be done without significant cholesterol lowering)
  • Swimming (not to be done without significant dietary change and the lowering of blood cholesterol)
  • Water aerobics (done gently until fitness improves, and not done without significant dietary change and the lowering of blood cholesterol)
  • No competitive sports


Chinese Medicine

Most heart problems involve deficiency. Since the heart relies on other organs for its nourishment and energy, the majority of heart problems is caused by and treated through imbalances in other organs systems.


  • Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: 500 – 1000 mg, three per day; helps keep plague from forming, lowers triglycerides, strengthen capillaries, and increases HDL
  • Beta carotene: 20 – 100 mg daily
  • Vitamin E: 60 – 300 IU daily



  • Meditation
  • Relaxation and stress management techniques
  • Soft, relaxing music, daily