Pain in the lower extremities may be indicative of a condition called peripheral artery disease, or PAD. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, PAD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the limbs, head and organs, contributing to atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries. Blocked blood flow and eventual limited oxygen supply to these areas can cause pain and numbness. When severe enough, PAD may lead to tissue death.
Discomfort due to PAD usually occurs when a person is walking or exercising, because the muscles are not getting enough blood during these activities to meet their needs, says the American Heart Association. Those with diabetes may confuse pain with neuropathy, and the elderly may think pain from PAD is a normal sign of aging and stiffness.
When undiagnosed, PAD can lead to further complications, including increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease. Even amputation of a limb may be necessary. However, PAD is preventable when taking a few steps to improve diet.
According to new research published by the American Heart Association, eating more fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing PAD, which affects an estimated 8.5 million people in the United States alone. Researchers examined dietary data from roughly 3.7 million men and women, with an average age of 64. Approximately 6.3 percent of the subjects had PAD, and 29.2 percent indicated they ate three or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The discovery was those who reported eating three or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables had an 18 percent lower risk of PAD than those who reported eating less of these foods. The association between fruit and vegetable consumption and lower PAD risk remained even after accounting for age, gender, race, smoking status, and various cardiovascular risk factors.
“Our current study provides important information to the public that something as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet could have a major impact on the prevalence of life-altering peripheral artery disease,” said Dr. Jeffrey Berger, study coauthor and associate professor of medicine and surgery at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
Researchers also said their study confirmed that Americans’ overall fruit and vegetable intake remains dismally low.
The association of fruit and vegetable intake and lower PAD risk persisted after accounting for age, gender, race, smoking status and multiple other cardiovascular risk factors. Researchers noted older white women were most likely to eat three or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, while younger black men were the least likely to report daily intake of three or more servings of fruits and vegetables. Low fruit and vegetable intake was particularly associated with PAD among current and former smokers.
“Our study gives further evidence for the importance of incorporating more fruits and vegetables in the diet,” said Dr. Sean Heffron, study coauthor and instructor in medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “One-on-one dietary assessments and counseling for PAD patients, as well as greater public health awareness of the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption, are both needed.”
Saturated fats, trans-fats and sodium can contribute to the formation of plaques that lead to PAD. Replacing these foods with more vegetables and fruits that are naturally lower in saturated fats can help, as can increasing dietary fiber consumption. One way to incorporate these types of foods is to adhere to a Mediterranean diet, which offers high proportions of legumes, fruits, vegetables; moderate amounts of fish and dairy; and limited meat and meat products.
Peripheral artery disease can be a warning sign of cardiovascular trouble. Altering one's diet may help naturally prevent or treat this condition.