Cardiovascular calcification, or the buildup of calcium plaques in the arteries of the heart, presents an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Bits of plaque can break off and be carried by the bloodstream to critical junctures in the body and brain causing serious illness and death. A variety of factors can cause calcification, including lack of exercise, a high-fat high-sugar diet, obesity and low intake of vitamin K. To reduce the risk of further calcification, physicians generally recommend treatment with cholesterol-reducing drugs, diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.
High levels of low-density lipopropid (LDL), or "bad cholesterol," is a major indicator of potential problems and is associated, along with kidney disease, with calcification of blood vessels in the heart. LDL can penetrate blood vessel walls and create foam cells. These foam cells form the core of calcification plaque deposits. High-density lipopropid (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, prevents calcification by carrying cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver for processing. Reducing LDL levels is one of the most effective ways to prevent calcification plaques from forming in the blood vessels.
Medication is a major player in reducing LDL cholesterol, but dietary changes and nutritional supplements can also aid in the process. Plant sterols help prevent calcification in the heart. Sterols found in plant foods like nuts, corn, rice and vegetable oils are fats so similar to cholesterol that they block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Lowering cholesterol absorption forces the liver to pull LDL cholesterol out of the blood and further reduces LDL blood levels. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish weekly or taking fish oil supplements as part of a diet to reduce LDL and triglycerides and to prevent heart disease and stroke.
Diet and Nutrition
Flavonoids and tocotrienols also help reduce LDL and total cholesterol. These beneficial substances are found in fresh fruits, vegetables, tea and red wine and act as antioxidants in the body. Tocotrienols are found in certain vegetable oils like canola, corn and olive oil, as well as wheat germ, barley, saw palmetto, and certain types of nuts and grains. Tocotrienol is a vitamin E variant, but is not the only vitamin useful in promoting good cholesterol levels and reducing LDL cholesterol. Vitamins like C, B6, B12, vitamin K, niacin, folic acid and minerals like magnesium and selenium are also recommended in an LDL-reducing diet. Protein-building amino acids and antioxidant supplements extracted from hawthorn, soy, garlic and grape seeds have been associated with lowered blood levels of LDL and trigylcerides. Choosing a diet low in fats and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can go a long way toward helping stop calcification of the arteries. Middle-aged women who drink coffee have also been shown in an National Institutes of Health-funded study to have lower risk factors for blood vessel calcification, heart disease and stroke.
Lifestyle factors are also important to reduce risk of arterial calcification. Exercise regularly, stop smoking, reduce high blood pressure, get proper amounts of rest, reduce stress, control weight and maintain social interaction, along with a proper diet and medication, to build a healthy vascular system.
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