Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is most commonly caused by untreated atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that restricts blood flow. The primary cause of underlying atherosclerosis — which often leads to PAD and, if left unchecked for too long, Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) — is a buildup of plaque or fatty deposits in the arteries.
Fortunately for patients with PAD, it is possible to slow or even halt the progression of atherosclerosis to the heart, where it can often prove fatal. In many instances, PAD can be managed with simple lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and an improved diet.
While quitting smoking and increasing physical activity are self-explanatory, dietary changes can be a source of confusion for PAD sufferers, which often leads to poor adherence to dietary advice. As a recent study notes, “The main identified factors [affecting adherence]…were motivation, individual knowledge, perceptions of moderation, self-responsibility, taste concept or cravings, and temptations.”
Fortunately, there are a number of diets that have been shown to benefit PAD sufferers. The specifics of the diet will, of course, depend on each individual’s dietary needs; however, most patients can fulfill their dietary restrictions by following one of the four diets listed below.
High LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad cholesterol”) is one of the primary contributors to atherosclerosis. The Mediterranean Diet is designed to increase “good cholesterol” (HDL-C) levels by incorporating larger amounts of olive oils; legumes (peas, beans and lentils); fruits and vegetables; wine; moderate-to-high amounts of fish; and moderate amounts of dairy, such as cheese and yogurt.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet focuses on lowering sodium and fat intake, both of which cause the fatty plaque deposits that contribute to atherosclerosis and often lead to the development of PAD and CAD. This diet also requires a strict avoidance of alcohol.
Two comorbidities that put individuals at an increased risk of developing PAD are obesity and diabetes. The low-fat diet focuses on increasing nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while cutting down on fat and calories in order to control blood sugar levels and manage the individual’s weight, making it a perfect diet for diabetics or obese individuals who might develop PAD.
Many popular diets are of the low-carb variety, primarily because low-carb diets often help individuals lose weight. Low-carb diets can lower triglycerides and increase HDL-C levels, which are particularly beneficial to individuals with PAD. In addition, a low-carb diet coupled with a low-fat diet can help PAD sufferers lose weight and slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries, thereby helping them avoid the progression of PAD or even the onset of CAD.
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