Heart disease kills an estimated 17.9 million people globally each year, accounting for an estimated 32% of all deaths in 2019. Additionally, 38% of premature deaths, meaning deaths that occur in people under age 70, were due to heart disease in 2019. With this in mind, it’s important to protect your heart by improving your diet, lifestyle and seeing your doctor regularly for check-ups.
Blood tests are one of many ways of checking on your heart health. These tests help your doctor evaluate your blood chemistry, blood sugar, cholesterol, and organ health such as the kidneys and liver which are more susceptible to damage from cardiovascular disease.
Another way to check your heart health is by considering imaging studies such as a carotid artery ultrasound, chest x-ray, cardiac MRI, and echocardiogram. Finally, another metric that’s not as commonplace, is finding your coronary artery calcium (CAC) score. The CAC score has been shown to be a more cost-effective way to evaluate cardiovascular disease risk in healthy people with no active symptoms.
What is a Coronary Artery Calcium Score?
Developed in 1990, the CAC score is measured through a CT scan which helps your doctor assess your risk of heart disease. The higher the amount of calcified plaque present in the coronary arteries surrounding your heart, the higher your CAC score. This means your chances of having coronary atherosclerosis goes up the higher your CAC score is. Atherosclerosis refers to a build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries that prevents adequate blood flow to the heart.
The scan itself uses a CT imaging technique that can take hundreds of images of a moving heart from many different angles, leading to higher detection and location of coronary artery calcium deposits. The calcium score is rated as follows:
- 0: No calcium detected in the coronary arteries with a low risk of heart disease
- 1-10: Small amount of plaque meaning you have a very low risk of having heart disease
- 11-100: Some plaque is present meaning you have mild heart disease
- 101-400: Moderate amount of plaque with a risk of the plaque blocking an artery
- Over 400: Large amount of plaque is present with a more than 90% chance that plaque is blocking one or more coronary arteries
If you have a score over 11, your risk of having a heart attack increases as your score increases. Diet and lifestyle changes and further testing and/or imaging will be a good idea. The CAC can also be used by your doctor to determine what other therapies may be most appropriate for you. Most of all, stay out of fear and know you can make a significant change by changing your daily routine and habits. They body heals when you get the things that are harming it out of the way!
Dr. Wells has an IV therapy program that can decrease plaque in arteries. First step is a carotid ultrasound or calcium score test to see if you have plaque.
What Leads to a High CAC Score?
First, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how calcium gets into the coronary arteries. Damage occurs in the coronary arteries surrounding the heart which can lead to atherosclerosis and calcification in the arteries. Calcification may be due to the smooth muscle of the heart itself becoming damaged though research is still ongoing.
The following factors increase your risk for heart disease and a high calcium score – all these things DAMAGE the endothelial lining of blood vessels
- High blood pressure
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive alcohol intake
How to Prevent a High CAC Score
Diet and lifestyle changes are your most powerful tools to help prevent heart disease.
Exercise: Doing a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended to support a healthy heart. Additionally, weightlifting two or more times a week can add additional benefit.
Healthy Diet: Dr. Wells recommends a diet high in organic vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, with a minimal amount of sugars and saturated fats. Eating a diet based in whole foods (avoiding processed foods as much as possible) supports overall health and can reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Basically minimize foods that harm you and don’t overeat!
Reduce Risky Behaviors: Smoking and excessive alcohol intake are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Smoking alone can double the risk of dying from heart disease. Drinking more than one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease as well.
Get Adequate Sleep: Research shows not getting enough sleep increases the risk of heart disease. Sleeping less than six hours on average has been linked to increased systemic inflammation, potentially increased coronary artery plaque formation, and increased stress hormones. Seven to eight hours of sleep nightly is recommended to support overall health.
Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling found that plaque in the blood vessels was due to a vitamin C deficiency. In his studies he found that many animals produce their own vitamin C internally, up to 10-20 grams per day, and in these species heart disease never happens. Cholesterol in the form of lipoprotein A is formed only when there is damage to the lining of the blood vessels, as it’s job is to lay down in side the vessels and protect them from rupturing. eating a diet high in organic fruits and vegetables daily, can provide much vitamin C, but supplementing is also a good idea.
A few botanical medicines stand out as champs in regards to blood vessel health, Pine Bark Extract and Gota Kola. Pine Bark Extract is an extract of French maritime pine bark specifically, it contains proanthocyanins which have properties of being anti-inflammatory and inhibit the free radicals that damage the blood vessels. Pine bark supports blood vessel health and promotes circulation thereby modulating plaque formation and also helps support healthy blood sugar levels. Gota Kola has shown in research to stabilize plaque formation, inhibits oxidation and inflammation and promotes healthy circulation in the capillary beds. Taking both can make a significant and positive change in your health.
Phosphatidylcholine is a nutrient found in foods but can be supplemented as well. In the body, it is the backbone structure of the fatty layer of our cell walls. Every cell stores bad fats in the membranes making them brittle and more likely to die. Replacing the cell membrane happens more rapidly when we have phosphatidylcholine on board.
Collagen is made by the body but needs healthy stores of zinc, vitamin C, and the amino acids proline, hydroxyproline and glycine. Supplementing can help. Vitamin E, especially the delta fraction tocopherol is a super antioxidant for the health of the blood vessels and circulation as well. Last but not least CoQ10 in the form of ubiquinol, is protective for blood vessel health as well and vitally important for the mitochondria in the heart muscle cells.
Hope this helps!