Plaque - Physics at play

Plaque - Physics at play

Plaque in your arteries can be a worrying thing. Why do you get plaque, and how does the manner in which blood flows in your arteries affect the buildup of plaque in your arteries?

To understand this, let us first understand why plaque builds up in the first place. Your body needs fat, also known as cholesterol, to function. Cholesterol plays a number of vital roles, including in forming the membrans (walls) of your cells, in immune function, and in the digestion of various vitamins. It is only when you have excessive cholesterol building up in your arteries that it becomes a problem.

Cholesterol has various forms. It is the LDL (low density) and VLDL (very low density) that tend to get stuck in your arteries, to oversimplify things a little. When they do, your body sends calcium as a way to remove the stuck cholesterol. But if you keep getting too much calcium, the calcium starts to form plaque, blocking your arteries or forming clots, which is really what increases the risk for heart disease. Here is where plumbing matters.

Blood is flowing in your arteries at all times. When it does, broadly speaking, there are two types of flow: laminar flow and turbulent flow. Laminar flow is smooth, easy flow characterised by waves. Turbulent flow, as the name suggests, is erractic and circular, with water pooling at a certain location. Think of it like a river. Smooth through a valley and then turbulent and raging as it goes around bends and corners or from a high to a low.

It is much the same in your arteries. When your arteries bend and curve as they curl inside your body, you have turbulent flow. When you have straight lines, you have laminar or smooth flow. The result is that you tend to get more cholesterol at the bends and corners, and as a result, more plaque builds up. Your body follows the same laws of physics as Mother Earth. Naturally, the best answer is to keep your arteries clean by reducing excess cholesterol.