Can You Lower Your Coronary Calcium Score?
Your coronary calcium score, also called calcium heart score, is a powerful tool for predicting your risk of a heart attack. A calcium score test measures the amount of hardened (calcified) plaque in your coronary arteries. This allows us to estimate the likely total amount of blockage and the likelihood that one or more of your coronary arteries will get blocked. Blocked arteries in the heart lead to a heart attack.
Although a high coronary calcium score indicates an increased risk for heart attack, it is not an indication that you will have a heart attack. Dr. Paul Jurgens, a general cardiologist, specializing in preventive medicine at South Denver Cardiology, states, “The process of coronary artery disease, also known as atherosclerosis, involves a complex interaction involving abnormal blood vessel function, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and inflammation, and immune system cells. Together this process of atherosclerosis results in coronary artery plaque (blockages in the heart arteries), which can have a calcified component and non-calcified cholesterol or lipid core.
Various preventive measures, particularly lowering LDL cholesterol (often called bad cholesterol), may reduce plaque volume and change plaque composition. This reduction in plaque volume is predominantly achieved by reducing the cholesterol-rich core, leaving the fibrotic and calcified component fixed. This reduction in the cholesterol core has been associated with increased plaque stability and reduced risk of rupture or a heart attack.
Because the lipid core volume is modifiable, but not necessarily the fibrotic and calcified cap, short of any invasive procedure, there are no known preventive measures (both lifestyle and medical) that can decrease your coronary artery calcium score. Furthermore, with some of these preventative measures, the score can actually increase as the lipid core is decreased.
Notably, despite the coronary artery calcium score not being modifiable, numerous interventions can stabilize the plaque and overall reduce your risk of a heart attack.
Eat a heart-healthy diet, stay physically active, maintain a healthy weight, lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, manage blood pressure, manage diabetes, and quit smoking.”
You can reduce your risk of a heart attack while stabilizing your coronary calcium score with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
Diet Changes Can Help Stabilize Coronary Calcium Score
If you have an elevated coronary calcium score, changing your diet can help. Some of the best foods for helping to reduce your coronary calcium score include:
- Olive oil
- Soy proteins
- High-fiber foods
- Leafy greens
Read more about how these foods can stabilize your coronary calcium score without medications. At the same time, you want to reduce your consumption of foods that contribute to high cholesterol, especially low-density lipid (LDL) cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”). Foods to avoid include:
- Full-fat dairy
- Red meat
- Processed meat
- Fried foods
These foods can lead to the elevation of your LDL cholesterol, which contributes to arterial plaque buildup in your coronary arteries. These dietary changes are consistent with switching to a Mediterranean diet.
The relationship between exercise and coronary calcium score is a little trickier than diet. Many studies suggest that increasing exercise levels can help decrease inflammation, slowing coronary artery disease. However, a few studies suggest that people who engage in the highest levels of exercise actually have higher coronary calcium scores than people who don’t exercise as much. That being said, studies generally agree that higher levels of activity decrease your heart risk, even if they lead to higher coronary calcium scores.
Understanding why this might require understanding what a calcium score test does and does not measure. A calcium score test measures the amount of calcified (hardened) plaque in the coronary arteries. It does not measure the total amount of arterial plaque. We can extrapolate the total amount of plaque for most people using a formula. However, this doesn’t always work. Therefore, some people may have mostly soft plaque and a higher heart attack risk than their coronary calcium score indicates. High levels of exercise might lead to lower soft plaque levels, even if hardened plaque remains high, reducing risk even if it doesn’t reduce your coronary calcium score.
Statins are cholesterol-reducing medications that we often prescribe to people with high coronary calcium scores. Not everyone with a high calcium score will benefit from taking statins. However, statins can reduce your overall cholesterol, and with that reduction, you might also see your coronary calcium score stabilize.
We don’t automatically assume that a high coronary calcium score means you must take statins. Instead, we consider numerous factors in making this recommendation. One of the factors is your willingness and ability to make necessary lifestyle changes. People who are willing and able to make significant lifestyle changes may not need to take statins. Those who are reluctant to make lifestyle changes or don’t think they can maintain changes long-term might benefit more from taking statins.
A Calcium Score Test Can Help You Reduce Heart Risks
It’s challenging to manage your heart risks if we don’t have information. A calcium score test gives us the information we need to make decisions about lifestyle changes and medications that can reduce your heart risks. If we can’t lower your calcium score through these approaches, we might recommend coronary interventions to clear blocked arteries and restore blood flow to the heart.
If you are ready to learn more about your heart attack risk so that you can choose an appropriate healthy lifestyle, please call 303-744-1065 or use our online contact form to request an appointment at South Denver Cardiology Associates.
As with any health concerns, your specific treatment program should be discussed thoroughly with your primary care physician as well as any specialists who may need to be consulted – like a cardiologist.Sign Up