The Dangers of Coronary Calcium Scans

Most people know that calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones. But did you know that it also plays a significant role in cardiovascular health? While the idea of seeing inside the body to find out if you have coronary artery disease sounds good, the reality is that coronary calcium scans are dangerous, ineffective, and unnecessary.

Scientists and researchers developed the coronary calcium scan to respond to the impact of calcium on the heart and its blood vessels. This specialized test provides images of the heart, showing just how much calcium is present in the walls of the coronary arteries. Unfortunately, it may do more harm than good.

Understanding calcium’s relationship to the heart 

Under normal circumstances, the human body makes good use of calcium, storing 99 percent of it in the skeleton. The remaining calcium circulates the body in the blood, helping to repair damaged tissue

The blood vessel wall is a common location of tissue damage. Poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and toxin exposure contribute to high blood pressure and oxidative stress, which damage blood vessel tissue. 

The inflammatory process recruits calcium, cholesterol, and other fatty substances to come to the rescue, repairing the damaged vessel walls. This “plaque” is soft and waxy at first. However, it can harden or calcify over time. 

Excess calcium commonly deposits in the blood vessels surrounding the heart, especially as we age. In fact, coronary artery calcification deposits are found in 67 percent of women and 90 percent of men over 70.  

What is a coronary calcium scan? 

Calcified arterial plaques can be seen with a specialized x-ray device called a CT scan. A coronary calcium scan helps to detect the amount or level of calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries. Other names for this test include: 

  • Heart scan
  • Calcium scan test
  • Cardiac CT for calcium scoring 

Using an electron beam or multidetector computed tomography (EBCT or MDCT), multiple small sections from the aorta through the apex of the heart are x-rayed.

How is a coronary calcium scan interpreted? 

The coronary artery calcium (CAC) score was developed in the 1980s to quantify coronary calcification. The results of a coronary calcium scan are typically given as a number called the Agatston score. 

The Agatston score estimates the extent of coronary artery disease:

  • 0: No plaque or evidence of coronary artery disease.
  • 1–10: Minimal coronary artery disease.
  • 11–100: Mild coronary artery disease. Mild or minimal coronary narrowing likely.
  • 101–400: Moderate coronary artery disease. Significant narrowing possible.
  • > 400: Severe coronary artery disease. High likelihood of at least one significant coronary narrowing. The higher your score, the higher your risk of a heart attack. 

Due to the continuum of this diagnostic measurement, it’s challenging to identify a healthy coronary calcium score. Technically speaking, a normal calcium score is zero. However, as we age, most people develop calcium in their vessels. 

While many doctors use a CAC score, some have questioned its validity. For example, this study asserts that the Agatston score is arbitrary. Moreover, these scans measure calcified plaque, which has become hardened. These plaques tend to be more stable and fixed in place. The test does not measure soft plaque, which is more prone to cause a problem in the circulatory system. 

What are the risks of a coronary calcium scan?

As with all medical procedures, coronary calcium scans come with risks, primarily radiation exposure. CT scans and x-rays deliver ionizing radiation, a known human carcinogen. Radiation from a coronary calcium scan breaks chemical bonds in the tissue, damaging DNA and leading to cancer

Humans are exposed to low-level radiation daily. However, the effects of radiation, whether from our everyday lives or CT scans, are cumulative. The more radiation one gets over time, the higher the risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. 

While it might be nice to know how much calcium is in the coronary arteries, is it worth the risk of developing additional health problems that result from the radiation? 

Do the results change the care plan? 

Medicine has an interesting problem. We tend to over-test in certain situations. You have the sniffles? Take a Covid test. You are at high risk for heart attack, get a coronary calcium scan. 

Unfortunately, over-testing is at the root of many of our problems. We must ask ourselves, how will the test results change our heart health plan? If the health plan is the same, regardless of test outcome, is the test necessary? 

Generally speaking, individuals with high Agatston scores are prescribed statin drugs. And, as we know, statins don’t lower coronary artery calcification. 

Statins are the wrong answer to coronary artery disease

Approximately 35 million people take statin drugs in the United States. Statins are the abbreviated name for cholesterol-lowering medications called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. Many doctors prescribe statins in response to an elevated coronary calcium score. 

Interestingly, a 2015 study found that statin drug therapy does not reduce coronary calcium scores. Instead, the study found an increase in coronary calcification from statin drugs. Therefore, individuals with multiple coronary calcium scans can expect an increase in scores when taking statin drugs.

A better plan for treating coronary artery disease 

Individuals who’ve had an abnormal calcium scan don’t need to turn to pharmaceuticals to heal. There are many healthier alternatives to reduce plaque buildup in the arteries. The best ways to remedy a poor coronary calcium scan score include the following: 

Eat Well

With every bite of food, we are determining our health. Nourishing food has the ability to heal, while consuming a diet high in processed carbohydrates and sugars is the number one contributor to atherosclerosis. Studies show that more than two-thirds of heart disease deaths could be prevented with healthier diets. 

The best way to prevent heart disease is by eating an organic, whole-food diet free of pesticides, GMOs, and other toxic chemicals. Consuming a diet rich in vegetables, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds is the number one way to keep the arteries healthy. 

Live Well

We live in a sedentary world, with most individuals spending hours sitting behind a screen. Most people rarely spend more than a few minutes outdoors in the sun. 

Sadly, this was not how nature intended humans to exist. Our ancient ancestors roamed the earth, rising and sleeping with the sun. They integrated movement throughout the day. Grounding to the earth was simply part of life. 

A healthy body begins with movement. Get outside and get the heart pumping, which will work to keep the blood flowing smoothly through the arteries. Embrace the gift of sunshine, which helps the body produce blood-pressure-lowering nitric oxide and vitamin D. 

Think Well

Where our thoughts go, the body follows. If you surround yourself with low-vibrational energy, your body will become ill. On the other hand, if you reduce stress and focus on the positive, your body will respond accordingly. Studies show that depression and anxiety are frequently associated with coronary artery disease. 

Therefore, spend time each day doing something that you love. Reduce stress through yoga, meditation, or mindfulness. 

Test, Don’t Guess

A coronary calcium scan is an unnecessary and potentially dangerous test. However, there are many tests that are effective in determining how well the cardiovascular system is functioning. 

For example, the advanced cardiac panel is a simple blood test that takes an in-depth look at the heart and its vessels. This comprehensive test evaluates significant health predictors such as inflammation, cholesterol, insulin, advanced lips, homocysteine, hormones, and more. 

This test provides just as valuable information as a coronary calcium scan but without the radiation, discomfort, and cost. 

Evidence-based supplements 

If you’ve had a coronary calcium scan and your score was high, you’ve likely been prescribed pharmaceuticals. Sadly, many people don’t realize that there are more natural and effective remedies. 

The Coronary Artery Disease Complete Support Protocol provides everything you need to support healthy blood vessels. The CAD Complete Support Protocol ensures optimal blood flow, endothelial function, nitric oxide formation, detoxification, and blood vessel integrity, without all the nasty side effects. 

Next Steps

If you’ve already had a coronary calcium scan, don’t worry. What’s done is done. However, steer clear of this dangerous test in the future, as the benefits certainly don’t outweigh the costs.

A simple yet comprehensive lab test is the best way to determine your risk for coronary artery disease. The lab test results will then drive the treatment recommendations, which may include various natural supplements to help support your blood vessels. 

Eat well, Live well, Think well

Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza 2022

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