What Is Cerebral Atherosclerosis? Can We Stop It?

A clogged carotid artery can shut down your brain's oxygen supply.
A clogged carotid artery can shut down your brain's oxygen supply.

What is cerebral atherosclerosis, and can you stop it??

If you’re into the X-Men comics series, you know how the AI computer Cerebro amplifies Professor X’s telepathic skills so he can locate and observe anyone, anywhere.

With Cerebro’s help, Professor X can distinguish humans from mutants because of their different brain-wave frequencies. 

In a scene from one of the X-Men movies, Mystique sneaks into the X-Mansion’s lower level and plants a mysterious green liquid in Cerebro. She intends for the toxic fluid to infect Professor X when he next uses the computer. 

Most of us shouldn’t have to worry about green liquid entering our brains. However, we should be concerned about other brain maladies, which leads us to today’s question.

What is Cerebral Atherosclerosis? 

Let’s look at the etymologies of “cerebral” and “atherosclerosis.” 

In Spanish, “Cerebro” means brain. Like the English “cerebral,” it stems come from the Latin “cerebrum,” which translates as “the brain,” or “the understanding.” 

The casual observer may confuse “atherosclerosis” with the similar-sounding “arteriosclerosis.” They both contain “sclerosis,” a Latin word meaning “hardness” or “morbid hardening of the tissues.” 

The combined meaning of “arterio”  and “sclerosis” is “hardening of the arteries.” 

“Athero,” on the other hand, comes from “atheroma.” That’s a Latin medical term translated in 1706 as “encysted tumor.” It’s rooted in the Greek words “ather,” for “chaff” and “athere,” for “porridge, groats.” 

So, atherosclerosis includes arterial plaque buildup which damages the artery wall (endothelium) as well as hardening of the arteries. And “cerebral atherosclerosis” refers to a narrowing of the cerebral arteries from accumulated fat, cholesterol, or calcium plaques.

When narrowing affects these blood vessels, their blood flow drops along with the oxygen levels in your blood and brain. 

Cerebral vs. Coronary Atherosclerosis

Usually, when people hear about atherosclerosis, they think about the risks to their hearts, not their brains. Heart disease IS our number one killer, yet your brain requires about twice the oxygen as your heart:

  • Your resting brain accounts for 20 percent of your total oxygen needs
  • Your resting heart accounts for 10-12% of your total oxygen needs 

With such high oxygen and energy requirements, it’s no surprise that brain complications have also become significant causes of death and disease. 

We should worry just as much about cerebral-artery as coronary-artery plaque buildup. That’s why the question “What is cerebral atherosclerosis?” is of such concern!

A 2014 study investigated the impact of stenosis (narrowing of arteries) and atherosclerosis (accumulation of plaque) of cerebral arteries on patients with mild cognitive impairment.

The research published in Neurology concluded that the presence of atherosclerosis significantly increases the risk of developing dementia. 

During four years of observation, 116 of the 423 participants developed dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers concluded those with moderate or severe arterial stenosis experienced faster declines in cognition and function than those without clogged arteries.

How You  Can Stop Cerebral Atherosclerosis

Everything that makes you “you” – your sensations, thoughts, movements, memories, and feelings all result from signals constantly streaming through billions of cerebral nerve cells.

Without adequate oxygen, your brain neurons don’t have the energy for continuous optimal function. What can happen when cerebral atherosclerosis shuts down your brain’s oxygen supply?

A clogged carotid artery can shut down your brain's oxygen supply.What Is Cerebral Atherosclerosis
A clogged carotid artery can shut down your brain’s oxygen supply.
  • stroke
  • brain atrophy 
  • dementia 
  • Alzheimer’s disease

What makes it worse is that atherosclerotic disease can begin in early adulthood and remain asymptomatic for decades!

So, given the answers to “What is cerebral atherosclerosis,” the logical next question is “How do we avoid it?” 

Many environmental and biological factors play a role in determining our health. Some risk factors for developing it Cerebral atherosclerosis are out of our hands:

  • age
  • gender
  • race
  • family history of the disease

 

Others, however, are things we can control:

  • diet
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol level
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • physical inactivity

 

Wouldn’t it be nice never to have to worry about the question, “What is cerebral atherosclerosis?” And all we have to do is start asking, “What can we do to keep our brains healthy?” 

The answer is a “no-brainer.”: Don’t smoke, exercise daily, and eat whole food plant-based! 

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