Yes, it’s possible to actually lower your calcium score–the number that’s calculated from a CT scan of your heart’s coronary calcified plaque.
You may have been led to believe that coronary calcium score cannot be lowered; that the coronary calcium score progression can only be slowed down, or at best, halted.
But according to a cardiologist whom I consulted with for this article, you can, indeed, lower your calcium score.
“Yes, you can reverse the plaque,” says Dr. Larry Santora, MD, cardiologist, medical director of cardiac CT, and medical director of the Vascular and Wellness Center, Saint Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA, and author of “OC Cure for Heart Disease.”
To achieve this, it’s through commitment to:
- A “clean” diet
- Exercising daily
- A statin drug
- Certain supplements
Sounds simple, right?
Well, it’s not as straightforward as you may think.
The statin part of lowering calcium score is as simple as taking it as prescribed.
Same with the supplements that are known to potentially lower calcium score and benefit heart health.
The confusion is with the diet and exercise part.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people whom I’ve encountered — including clients when I was a personal trainer — who truly believed they had a “healthy diet” — but just the opposite was true.
A perfect example of this is my mother. She was floored upon being told she needed emergency quintuple bypass surgery.
“How could this have happened to me?” She kept asking.
“I’ve always ate a healthy diet,” she’d say. “I’ve been on the Mediterranean diet! I’ve always been active!”
My mother has never had a coronary calcium score test; she had a catheter angiogram.
I can assume that had she had a calcium score test, the result would have been a very high number.
Re-evaluate Your Understanding
Do YOU think you’re on the Mediterranean diet because you cook your white rice with olive oil, or because you dip potato chips in yogurt, or because you eat a daily salad with dressing that contains added sugar?
Is your idea of aerobic exercise doing housework and walking about at Walmart?
The calcium score can be lowered, says Dr. Santora, but not without pinpointed changes in diet and exercise habits.
Lowering Your Coronary Calcium Score
Think whole foods in their natural state.
Not foods that come in a box, can or bag. Exceptions are all-natural whole grain foods, or the actual grains, that are sold in plastic bags.
• Go very light on red meat and eat only grass-fed beef; grain-fed beef contains a lot of “bad” fats.
• Replace chicken from frozen dinners with whole chicken.
• Eat a lot of wild-caught fish.
• Don’t even look at processed meats.
• Eliminate foods with white flour, high fructose corn syrup and sugar.
• Avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
• Eat as many raw vegetables as possible and snack on fruit.
• Adherence to such a drastic change in lifelong eating habits can be very daunting for most people.
If this means occasionally indulging in a single serving of forbidden foods (e.g., candy, cake, a donut, slice of pizza, pretzels) to prevent burning out from the natural diet, then do so…with control.
For many people, 100 percent elimination of favorite foods is simply not possible.
Otherwise, battling to achieve this could collapse their discipline.
Exercise should include strength training (e.g., weight machines, free weights, tension tubing) and cardio workouts (e.g., group fitness classes, hiking, jogging, martial arts, inline skating).
A lengthy visit to Costco does not replace your exercise session for that day.
Supplements that will help lower calcium score (in combination with the other lifestyle changes just mentioned) are niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin D3, along with magnesium citrate, turmeric, green tea, aged garlic extract, fish oil and plant sterols.
Though there is some controversy over whether or not some of these supplements actually aid in lowering calcium score, there are plenty of studies (e.g., Malinski et al, Kuriyama et al), showing that all of these supplements are very beneficial to heart health.
Dr. Santora says, “I had my first heart scan in 1999, and then every two years since, and have had a reversal of some plaque.
“But remember, you do not have to reverse the plaque; you just need to stabilize the plaque so that it does not rupture.
“Studies [e.g., Journal of the American College of Cardiology, March 26, 2013] show that if the plaque does not progress more than >10 percent per year; the chance of a heart attack is low.”
If you’ve never had your calcium score taken, this is something you’ll want to consider — depending on your risk factors for coronary artery disease and your age.