Peripheral Artery Disease

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness

A while back, I told you about my battle with peripheral artery disease (PAD). I also told you how nattokinese could help prevent the plaque build-up that can cut off blood flow to your legs. But there’s another way to boost blood flow – and it’s as easy as taking a walk.

According to a new government-funded study, a planned walking program can dramatically improve both endurance and quality of life. Walking has certainly made a difference in my life!

Bypassing the Blockage

This new study, which included 156 people with PAD, was different than earlier trials. First, many of the participants didn’t have the pain (known as intermittent claudication) that is a classic symptom of artery blockage. Second, it measured leg strength – something large trials had typically ignored.

The PAD sufferers were randomly assigned to a group that would undergo six minutes of supervised treadmill exercise, a group that would do lower extremity resistance training, or to a control group. Over the next six months, the participants who did their regular six-minute walks increased their walking distance by about 69 feet while those who didn’t walk regularly actually experienced a decrease of 49 feet. Better yet, the study showed that those who walked had better blood flow in their legs – despite blockages.

It turns out that walking forces blood into the legs, which increases and strengthens the number of smaller blood vessels in your extremities. Walking also helps to extract more oxygen from the blood that is present, which helps the leg muscles make better use of existing blood flow.

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Walk This Way

What this study shows is that everyone diagnosed with PAD should walk – even if they don’t have any leg pain. In fact, most doctors suggest taking a 40-minute walk three times a week for at least six months. But if you live a fairly sedentary life, don’t expect to accomplish this right away.

Walking is simple and inexpensive, but you do need some basic equipment. The most important is a pair of comfortable athletic shoes that offer good arch support. And you don’t need to spend a fortune on them. Surprisingly, you can find some great shoes at discount stores. Just make sure to try on several pairs and walk around the store in them to ensure comfort.

You can opt to walk on a treadmill (easier, but costly) or on the sidewalk (harder, but free) … but whichever you choose, start slowly. Shoot for 5 to 10 minutes at first and walk at a fairly slow pace – about 1.5 to 2 miles an hour if you’re on a treadmill. If you choose to walk on the sidewalk, you might want to get a pedometer that automatically counts your steps or a heart monitor to track your heart rate as you walk.

Exercising within your target heart rate zone will ensure that you’re getting the optimal intensity for your body. Knowing your target heart rate and monitoring it throughout your workout session will also help prevent you from over-exerting yourself. And that means fewer injuries! To find out what your target heart rate is, check out an online heart rate calculator like the one at WebMD.

Walking may be difficult at first – you probably won’t go very far or very fast. But if you keep at it, you’ll be surprised at how well you do. I know I was. Even with severe PAD (partial blockage in one leg and total blockage in the other), I was logging in 3 miles a day at 3.5 mph after just three months! And the real kicker? The pain actually diminished the farther I walked!

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PAD isn’t one of those new “diseases” created by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more drugs – and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, one out of every 16 people over the age of 40 suffers from the condition. But 75 percent of Americans know little or nothing about it.

Ignoring PAD can lead to complete blockage of the arteries. And in some cases, that can cause the tissues in the leg to die because they don’t get enough oxygen due to poor blood flow. If this happens, part of the leg or foot must be amputated. While this is more common in people who also have diabetes, it can happen to anyone who disregards the warning signs.

If you experience tight, aching, or squeezing pain in the calf, thigh, or buttock when walking – a condition called intermittent claudication – get checked by your doctor right away. Even if you don’t experience symptoms, it’s cheap, quick, and easy to test for PAD. Have your health-care provider measure the difference in blood pressure between your ankle and arm. If the pressure in your ankle is lower than in your arm, you may have PAD.

One Last Thing …

You’ve probably seen the commercials for Plavix (clopidogrel) – an antiplatelet, blood-thinning drug used to treat PAD. It’s the second-biggest seller in the world behind Pfizer’s Lipitor, and some doctors think it’s an absolute wonder drug. But before you jump on the Plavix bandwagon, several recent studies suggest that Plavix may not work for everyone.

Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet found that Plavix is less effective in about 30 percent of the population who have a genetic variant inherited from one parent. A third study showed that the drug is less effective in the 5 percent of the population that has the gene from both parents. In addition to those three studies, there’s new evidence that some heartburn drugs interfere with Plavix’s blood-thinning action.

This isn’t the first time that Plavix has gotten bad reviews. The makers of Plavix, Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol-Myer Squibb, have received several FDA warning letters regarding false and misleading statements made in promotional materials for the blood thinner. At the time Plavix was developed, the manufacturer’s own studies demonstrated that the drug wasn’t any better than aspirin at preventing heart attacks and strokes. Those studies, along with the FDA warning letters, clearly indicate that the manufacturer was more concerned with increasing sales, even at the expense of providing fair and accurate information to consumers and their doctors.

So what should you do if you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, and your doctor is pushing Plavix? Talk to him about combining a daily aspirin with 900 mg. of garlic. Studies of garlic have established its anti-platelet activity – which simply means that it reduces the risk of blood clots by preventing blood platelets from sticking together – and its ability to help keep blood flowing to your lower extremities.

Research Brief …

Reducing the amount of salt you eat won’t just lower your blood pressure. A new Australian study has discovered that eating a low-sodium diet can also help keep blood vessels working properly. The study measured the impact of salt restriction on the endothelium, the thin layer of cells that line the interior of the blood vessels and help regulate blood flow.

Overweight and obese study participants with normal blood pressure who restricted the sodium in their diets showed evidence of improved endothelial function compared to participants who did not restrict salt. Simply put, eating a low-salt diet protected blood vessels and boosted blood flow, independent of its impact on blood pressure.

The easiest way to reduce the amount of salt you consume is to take the salt shaker off the table. But it’s also important to check food labels. A product labeled “very low sodium” must have less than 35 milligrams of sodium in a serving, and “low-sodium” foods must have less than 140 milligrams of sodium. A food labeled “reduced sodium” must contain 25 percent less sodium than the original product. And watch out for those other seasonings. Soy sauce, steak sauce, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce, and even cooking sherry are all loaded with sodium. Opt instead for low-sodium choices like lemon juice, vinegar, and herbs.

Dickinson KM, Keogh JB, Clifton PM. “Effects of a low-salt diet on flow-mediated dilatation in humans.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89:485-490.

McDermott MM, Ades P, Guralnik JM, et al. “Treadmill Exercise and Resistance Training in Patients With Peripheral Arterial Disease With and Without Intermittent Claudication: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;301:165-174.

Mega JL, Close SL, Wiviott SD, et al. “Cytochrome P-450 Polymorphisms and Response to Clopidogrel.” New England Journal of Medicine. 2009;360:354-362

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