New Heart Scan Results: Good News

One and a half years ago, in February 2009, I got a heart scan. It’s an X-ray measurement of how calcified your arteries are. Persons with high scores are much more likely to have a heart attack than persons with low scores. Scores in the hundreds are dangerous. Tim Russert, who died at age 58 of a heart attack, had a score of about 200 ten years before his death. Above age 40, the scores typically increase about 25% per year. That puts Russert’s score when he died at around 2000.

A few weeks ago I got another scan, at the same place with the same machine. Here are my scores. February 2009: 38 (about 50th percentile for my age). August 2010: 29 (between 25th & 50th percentile). In other words: 47% lower than expected. The earlier scan detected 3 “lesions”; the recent scan detected 2. The woman who runs the scanning center — HeartScan, in Walnut Creek, California — told me that decreases in this score are very rare. About 1 in 100, she said.

The only big lifestyle change I made between the two scans is to eat much more animal fat. After I found that pork fat improved my sleep, I started to eat a large serving of pork belly (with 80-100 g of fat) almost every day. Later I switched to 60 g of butter every day. The usual view, of course, is that to eat so much animal fat is v v bad and will “clog” my arteries. In fact, the reverse happened. Judging from this, the change was v v good.

19 Replies to “New Heart Scan Results: Good News”

  1. Good for you!

    I am unsurprised by your result. If you hang out in the paleo/low carb forums, you see this kind of thing a lot. And let’s not forget that the greatest (and most vilified) proponent of animal fat, the late Dr. Atkins, was a cardiologist.

    By the way, I am curious. Do you eat low(ish) carb?

  2. Seth, have you ever heard of the brachial artery tourniquet test? It’s supposed to test the health of your arteries. I once heard a lecture by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a cardiologist who advocates an extremely low-fat diet as a means to prevent or treat heart disease. Esselstyn uses the results of the tourniquet test as evidence that ingesting even modest amounts of lipids can make your arteries “stiffer” (i.e., less able to dilate after being constricted). I remember that Esselstyn made a big deal out of it during his lecture.

  3. Question: Had you lost weight between the 2 scans? And is that a relevant variables in bringing down your numbers? And what is the retest validity if you take the test twice in a row after waiting a week or so?

  4. Good news Seth! Besides the animal fat, what’s the rest of your diet like? and how often do you eat? Besides your walking and biking, do you do any other exercise? Do you think your improved sleep helped to improve your score?

  5. Did I simply add the fat to my diet or eat less of something else? I ate less of everything else. Butter is not all fat; 60 g of butter is about 500 calories.

    I already ate low-carb. The rest of my diet is meat, vegetables, and fermented foods, such as kombucha and yogurt. I eat one normal meal per day. I walk hard uphill on a treadmill a few times/week.

    Perhaps I lost 7 pounds between the two scans. I’m not sure, but weight loss alone can’t produce such a change, in the sense that I can’t imagine a plausible connection. I don’t know the test-retest correlation but the fact that a decrease is so rare shows that this cannot be due to chance. My sleep has been good for a long time. I doubt sleep changes had anything to do with it.

    I haven’t heard of the brachial artery tourniquet test. Butter seems to have reduced my blood pressure, which argues against increasing stiffness.

    K, can you point me to an example of this in the paleo forums? My impression is that people sometimes improve, but inevitably they have made many changes. To make just one change as I did is very rare, as far as I can tell.

  6. A frequented blog in the paleo sphere is the http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/ from cardiologist Dr. William Davis.
    Infact, you’ll both be presenting at the upcomming Ancestral Health Symposium.

    He advocates, as so many in the paleo crowd, the total avoidance of the ‘three horsemen of the apocalyps’ : sugar (fructose), wheat (gluten) and industrial plantoils (broken/excess omega6).

    Ask him yourself but Dr. William Davis is used to seeing his type of heartscan improvements.

  7. Nuts are not broken industrial plantoils (also, nuts are dificult to fully digest so overloading yourself with excess omega6 is nearly impossible). Better examples of broken industrial plantoils are margarine, mayonaise, any hydrolized oil filling, …

  8. Seth,
    Congrats on your calcium score improvements. There’s good reason to expect more than just the correlation between animal fats and lower calcification of the artery. They have one thing in common – vitamin K.

  9. Seth,

    What is commonly tested as LDL is not the whole story. Have a look at “cholesterol subfractions” Not all LDL is the same. There is small and dense, and large and fluffy. One “good” one “bad”… Admittedly I have a layman’s (caveman’s?) understanding of all this but you might be able to better digest it…

    There are enough studies out there to seriously doubt the medical establishment’s fascination with Statins…

    Just to put my biases out there, I have been following a LowCarb-> Paleo-> EvFit lifestyle for over two years now and have lost weight (320->240 lbs) as well as improving my overall fitness…

    PaNu Blog is excellent on this:

    http://www.paleonu.com/panu-weblog/2010/7/21/statins-and-the-cholesterol-hypothesis-part-i.html

    –Ed

  10. Have you read this?

    “Our hypothesis is that fats themselves play a role in regulating sleep,” Shaw said. They are, after all, signaling molecules, he said, and it’s possible “that lipids themselves are somehow signaling to the brain that you should be sleepy or are initiating cascades that either result in impairment or can protect you from impairment.”
    http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57664/

  11. I hope you do not equate one diagnostic with predictability for heart attacks, strokes, embolisms, stenosis, etc…!

    The Mayo Clinic suggests caution with regard to walk-in “clinical/diagnostic analyses”

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