ISIS Report 02/07/08
Calcium Deposits and Heart Disease
Prof. Joe Cummins speaks on a health issue closest to his heart
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Public education versus personal case notes
The Framingham health study has been following the health of residents in the
Massachusetts town in the United States since 1948 and continuing to further
generations. The study has been a major focus in educating the public, with
emphasis on identifying the factors leading to heart disease such as smoking,
cholesterol, diabetes and body weight 
At the age of 75, I live with Type 2 diabetes that has
been controlled first by diet and exercise, and later by drugs. My cholesterol
levels have been monitored for over twenty-five years and certified to be
well within safe limits, and I stopped smoking over twenty-five years ago.
I was taken by surprise last autumn, therefore, to find
that my cardiac arteries were blocked and that I required emergency by-pass
surgery. My arteries were blocked, not by cholesterol, but by concrete-like
deposits of calcium phosphate. Prior to the operation, I viewed my angiogram as it was being
taken by the surgeon, and was shocked to learn of the nature of the blockage.
The surgery was long and complex and my life has been hanging on a knife-edge
since. I decided to examine the phenomenon of cardiac calcification to question
why it is that calcification has not been widely recognized by the public
to be a major cause of death from heart disease, and to find out what if anything
could be done about it.
Calcification of arteries the major killer
In fact, my condition was not at all unusual. A study of 108 sudden coronary
deaths at autopsy carried out in 2000 in the United States revealed that calcification
was present in 55 percent of men and women under 40 years, and some calcification
was present in all men by age 50 and by the age of 60 in all women. Calcification
in atherosclerosis (progressive narrowing and hardening of the arteries) is
associated with ruptured plaques (deposit of fatty and calcium substances that
accumulate in the lining of the artery wall) .
A report published this
year in the New England Journal of
Medicine confirms that the accumulation of calcium in coronary arteries
predicts a future heart attack or other heart trouble far more accurately
or other standard risk factors . The coronary calcium study included 6722 men and women from mixed ethnic backgrounds
that had no clinical heart disease on entry, and were followed for a median
of 3.8 years. There were 163 coronary events of which 89 were major infarctions
or death. Compared with trial participants with no coronary calcium the adjusted
risks of a coronary events was increased by factors of 7.7 to 9.7 times
in subjects with elevated calcium.. There were no differences between the
racial and ethnic groups regarding the risk associated with elevated calcium.
The Editors of the Journal raised some concern that calcium testing might
not be cost effective because there was no effective therapy for the elevated
calcium at this time . I understand that point of view, having been diagnosed
with end-stage kidney disease in addition, which cannot benefit from dialysis
or transplant. However, it should not be beyond medical science to find a
remedy for the calcium blockage instead of effectively passing a death sentence
on the tens of millions that are afflicted.
Calcium alert is not new
This is not the first time the medical
establishment has been alerted to the problem of calcium. Already in 1945,
the nutrition expert Dr. Weston Price was on the trail of “a new vitamin-like
activator” that played a crucial role in the utilization of minerals in protecting
against tooth decay, in growth and development, in reproduction and brain
function, and in protection against heart disease . Using a chemical test,
Price identified this compound he called Activator X in butterfat, organs
and fat of animals consuming rapidly growing green grass, and in certain sea
foods such as fish eggs. Price died before the factor was finally identified.
A growing body of published
research has confirmed Price’s discoveries. Activator X, now known as vitamin
K2, does protect against tooth decay, supports growth and development and
is involved in normal reproduction; it protects against calcification of the
arteries that leads to heart disease, and is a major component of the brain.
Numerous studies have shown
vitamin K2 participates in preventing the accumulation
of calcium in cardiac vessel walls. The most recent studies using powerful
microarray technique to monitor gene expression revealed that a vitamin K2
derivative represses genes involved in arterial calcification . Investigators
have also made important steps in the regression of calcification from a clinical
standpoint . A genetic polymorphism for the gene encoding the enzyme Vitamin
K epoxide reductase was associated with increased risk of vascular calcification,
and 62 percent of the white population expressed the allele for increased
Both older men and older women share
the hazards of cardiac calcification equally. Paradoxically, older people
may suffer simultaneous from osteoporosis. Patients with osteoporosis
were found to have a higher prevalence of obstructive coronary artery disease
That is because Vitamin K2 is involved in the correct deposition of calcium
in bones rather than in soft tissues . Patients who took statin
drugs were prevalent in the study group participants with normal bone density,
leading the investigators to propose that statin drugs be prescribed to prevent
coronary heart disease . Statin therapy induced a 50 percent reduction
in the rate of coronary artery calcification in patients with Type 2 diabetes
. The statins are a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels in
people with or at risk of cardiovascular disease. As cholesterol is not implicated
in coronary artery calcification, the statin effect is surprising. However,
statins also reduce inflammation , which is implicated in coronary artery
evidence that stress associated with hostility in young adults  as well
as middle-aged and older people  are associated with cardiac calcification.
Similarly, those suffering discrimination by race or other factors pay an
additional price in calcification damage to the heart . All in all, being
cool, living peaceably with one another, and eating well are really good for
I can tell
you it is no fun to have a fatal disease. Public awareness is the first step
towards finding a remedy for the disease. May we succeed in doing just that.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
The Framingham Heart Study, 2008, http://www.framingham.com/heart/
- Burke AP, Taylor A, Farb A, Malcom GT, Virmani
R. Coronary calcification: insights from sudden coronary death victims.Z
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- Sardi B. Coronary calcification predicts future
heart attacks and coronary death. Cholesterol not found to be a significant
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The Westen A, Price Foundation, 2008 http://www.westonaprice.org/basicnutrition/vitamin-k2.html
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and regression of pathologic calcification. .J Mol Med. 2008 Apr;86(4):379-89.
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K epoxide reductase complex sub-unit 1 (VKORC1) polymorphism influences
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- Budoff MJ, Yu D, Nasir K, Mehrotra R, Chen
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- Smith TW, Uchino BN, Berg CA, Florsheim P,
Pearce G, Hawkins M, Hopkins PN, Yoon HC. Hostile personality traits and
coronary artery calcification in middle-aged and older married couples:
different effects for self-reports versus spouse ratings. Psychosom Med.
2007; 69(5}, 441-8.
- Lewis TT, Everson-Rose SA, Powell LH, Matthews
KA, Brown C, Karavolos K, Sutton-Tyrrell K, Jacobs E, Wesley D. Chronic
exposure to everyday discrimination and coronary artery calcification in
African-American women: the SWAN Heart Study. Psychosom Med. 2006;