A healthy diet and exercise, coupled with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, may slow or even cut calcium deposits in the coronary arteries of people at risk of heart disease, researchers report.
The findings come from a study of 102 men and women who had no symptoms of coronary artery disease but were considered to be at high risk of developing it.
Over a decade, participants who took statins and followed a diet and exercise plan showed a slower build-up of calcium deposits in their arteries, and some showed a reduction in calcification.
Calcium deposits are a component of the fatty plaques that mark coronary artery disease and set the stage for heart attack and stroke. And the degree of calcification in a person's arteries is thought to reflect his or her risk of heart disease.
In the new study, researchers used an imaging technique called electron beam tomography, or EBT, to measure calcium deposits in participants' arteries at the study's start and again about 10 years later. After the first EBT scan, all patients started statin treatment and a regimented diet and exercise plan -- although many failed to completely stick with the lifestyle changes for the long haul.
One-third of patients showed a reduction in their calcium score -- the amount of calcium detected by EBT -- by the time of the second scan. In addition, only one patient had a heart attack (non-fatal) during the study, while two suffered strokes.
The Hong Kong researchers say coronary artery disease can be detected "non-invasively and very conveniently" with EBT. However, EBT is a relatively new type of imaging technique still under study, and it is not yet recommended for widespread screening. If coronary artery disease is detected early, the way to go is to start aggressive lifestyle modification and a statin.
With this approach, the researchers feel that patients will be able to regress their plaques, and hopefully in such a way that surgery can be either deferred or eliminated.
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