Q. What natural remedies can help protect my heart?

A. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. Let's talk about why.

Plaque. It can build up inside the arteries, causing them to harden, which is known as atherosclerosis. This condition may partially, or totally, block the blood's flow to your heart. In addition, the plaque may become unstable and break off, interrupting the heart's flow, which would cause a heart attack.

Atherosclerosis. It starts when certain factors damage the inner layers of the arteries. Risk factors include family history, race, poor diet, high blood pressure, smoking and high amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood stream.

Modified behavior. However, most of these risk factors are modifiable, or controllable, through diet, exercise and stopping tobacco use. You can naturally help diminish the plaque buildup in your arteries by making healthy lifestyle changes, including:

Stopping smoking. Smoking aggravates and speeds up the growth of plaque in arteries. Benefits of smoking cessation begin shortly after quitting.

Maintaining a healthy weight. People with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors.

Eating a healthy diet. Having a diet rich in fiber, low in saturated fats, and high in fruits and vegetables lowers your risk of plaque buildup.

Exercising regularly. Physical inactivity increases the risk of heart disease by 50 percent, according to the World Heart Federation.

Many people think plaque buildup and heart attacks happen only to old men and women. This is not true - plaque buildup can begin at any age.

To help reduce plaque buildup in your arteries and decrease the risk of a heart attack, speak with your physician about a comprehensive plan that is right for you.

- Eddy Mizrahi, cardiologist at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital