The Physicians Committee

The Warning Signs of Clogged Arteries

  July 27, 2015    

By the time many people reach their 20s, blockages that disrupt the flow of blood already exist within their arteries. Responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood and life-sustaining nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body, healthy arteries are essential for maintaining a healthy body.

But when particles of cholesterol, fat, and other cells build up in arteries—thanks mostly to a Western diet loaded with meat, dairy products, and eggs—they create fatty streaks and eventually form plaques that obstruct blood flow.

In coronary artery disease—the most common type of cardiovascular disease and leading killer in the United States—these blockages affect the arteries leading to the heart, causing chest pain and often resulting in heart attack.

But blockages do not only affect the arteries in the chest. Atherosclerosis, or the thickening of arteries, can strike any artery in the system, leading to different symptoms throughout the body that can serve as early warning signs for cardiovascular disease.

While different people experience symptoms differently, let’s take a look at three common ways clogged arteries can manifest throughout the body:

Lower back pain: The arteries leading to the lower back are among the first in the body to accumulate plaque and show signs of blockage. In fact, 10 percent of Americans already experience advanced blockages in these arteries by age 20. Reduced blood flow to the back can weaken the disks that cushion the vertebrae and lead to painful herniated disks and pinched nerves. And according to studies, people who suffer from chronic back pain – the most common form of pain in the United States – are far more likely to have clogged lumbar arteries compared to those who do not experience back pain.

Erectile Dysfunction: In many cases, erectile dysfunction is an early warning sign for clogged arteries. When blood flow to the penis is reduced, sexual dysfunction results. A recent study found that screening men with erectile dysfunction for heart disease could prevent a million heart attacks or strokes over the next 20 years.

Stroke: When plaque accumulates in the arteries leading to the brain, the path for blood flow narrows, depriving portions of the brain of oxygenated blood. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die in what is known as a thrombotic stroke.

Since arterial blockages in one area can indicate systemic damage, medications that treat isolated symptoms may not be the most effective way to treat the underlying problem. Studies show that the most powerful prescription may not lie in the pill bottle, but rather on our plates. Consuming a plant-based diet free of cholesterol and low in fat has been proven to reverse arterial blockages and improve blood flow.

Interested in learning more of the warning signs of clogged arteries? Join us at this summer’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine Cardiovascular Disease and read and share our infographic:




clogged arteries

My comment is in the form of a question: How long does it take to unclog the total arterial body in a person (I am male, 67 yrs. old) if one does go on a whole foods plant based diet? In my own situation, I've been on this for nearly 4 years. Free oils have been the last old form of foods given up, but now they are gone too.

Pomegranate juice unclogs carotid arteries

I recently read about research showing how pomegranate juice actually reduces the plaque in the carotid arteries running up the neck and to the brain. If I remember correctly, significant improvement can happen within just a couple of months. My husband has 100% blockage in one carotid and 50% in the other (it was 70-80% blocked two years ago before going mostly vegan). Yet he forgets to drink the juice. If a doctor gave him a pill that could actually give the same results he'd never miss a dose! This is frustrating for me. I don't want to see him have a stroke!

a bit of caution

Love this web site. But, a bit of caution in over interpreting the association between low back pain and atherosclerosis. This association is probably mediated by confounders such as obesity, lack of physical activity, poor diet, and type of employment. Still good to think about though.

Clogged arteries

Gabriel, in the movie forks over knives, a doctor reversed the blockages after 3 years with zero oil. It was documented by X-ray, he happened to be a heart doctor!

As I read this my husband is

As I read this my husband is in ICU after an attempt to bypass 6 blocked arteries, 2 of which were successfully bypassed by the surgeon. Due to the poor condition of his veins they will have to attempt stent placement for the others. He had all of these symptoms. Thank you for sharing this very important information.

Cholesterol & HDL

Scientists discovered that the better Cholesterol, called High Density Cholesterol (HDL), can lead to a heart attack, thus caused by arterial plaques. My question is, which foods do contain that problematic HDL? I imagine that we do the best we can, if we, right before going to sleep at night, consume enough DHA & EPA from Special Algues from Klamath Lake (Oregon) or consume even fishes, that contain lots of it, like salmon, Herring, Sardines or other fishes that live in deep cold oceans and seas.

Fruit is life

Watermelon.. eat as much as you can.

reversal of clogged arteries

If one is on a plant based diet, is it possible that a piece of plaque can break off the artery wall and cause a stroke? Or does a plant based diet dissolve the plaque, if so how long would it take for a plant based diet to reverse the heart disease?

clearing clogged arteries

John Otvos - If you haven't heard of Dr Essylstyn, he'd be worth your time checking out. From a whole foods, plant based diet, his research has shown it takes years to clear arteries. I vaguely recall his case studies show *improvement* vs. total removal of blockages.


Thank you for this very informative information.
Jane B (member (PCRM)


Thank you for this very informative information.
Jani B (member (PCRM)

Dr. Barnard,
Thank you for the work you do for us. I'm not sure how to interpret the information here as it might apply to me. I ma 81 and had triple bypass surgery 15 years ago but never had a stroke or heart attack. Only has pericarditis twice 41 and 39 years ago. I do have ER now since about 4 years ago and some joint pain in lower back when standing a long time. I started eating more healthy in recent years and lost 20 lbs. and 2 inches in waist. I am now 153 and 36 waist. Numbers very good, like 110 cholesterol, Triglyceride-114, LDL-51, HDL-36 ( has always been low) A1c 6.2 been working on getting it lower. I do have osteoarthritis.
I have been having a healthy morning smoothie every day for about 1 1/2 years. I was told to have healthy fats like coconut oil which confused me since it is high in saturated fat, but good fat. Is that a good suggestion? Other than that I try to walk every day when possible but not exercising as I have low tolerance to exercise(previous cervical spondolosis) and arthritis.
How do you think I'm doing and what else is suggested?
Thank you,

Clogged arteries

I am 81, 154 pounds 5 ft. 7 in. I have healthy smoothies every morning. I was told to add healthy fat (coconut oil ) to smoothies. I know it's high in saturated fat. Is this good advise? My numbers are good except HDL low at 35. Cholesterol 110.


I am a 38 yr old woman with an auto immune disease the past 4 days iv had a tightening,pressure pain on my right side at my shoulder in my chest,, it’s been moving slowly towards the left and today it’s right into my left side,, my backs been sore and due to my auto immune I’m very run down iv lost a lot of weight my muscle has deteriorated rapidly n I’m a bag of bones,, do you think my pain is related to block arteries ??

neck pain on left side along with painful hands, fingers and let

I have had a CT scan of my neck and chest along with x rays of my neck. Everything is normal except for osteoarthritis in my neck. I am female 59 years old. The discomfort and pain started 6 months ago. What could it be? several visits to my doctor who says to stretch and see a chiro

Cheryl's post

Yes, see a chiropractor, one recommended by somebody. Or an osteopath...quiz them first about whether they will be able to give you some exercises or recommendations for how to sleep with pillows to avoid it coming back. But if you have had it for six months your muscle are probably set and you will need a few visits.

Had racing I minute heart

Had racing I minute heart then got echo stress test monitor dr stress is abnormal get angiogram why is artery clogged I go gym eat veggies fruit my blood good cholesterol good I’d understand

Glucose, insulin, estrogen,

Glucose, insulin, estrogen, and cortisol are 4 factors in a clots likelihood to form within a vein or artery. Your glucose and insulin levels were jacked up from the sugar. Are you on any hormones?

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