Reversing Heart Disease
Heart disease research in the past has shown that certain cholesterol medicines, known as statins, can stop the progression of heart disease, but they cannot prevent it. Statins work by blocking a particular enzyme that controls the rate of cholesterol production in the body. This causes the liver to make less cholesterol. It also increases the liver's ability to collect and get rid of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).
Statins tend to cause total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides to decrease and HDL ("good cholesterol") to increase. Statins have also been shown to decrease the chances of:
- Death because of heart disease
- A heart attack
- A heart procedure, such as angioplasty or open heart surgery.
Recently, a study was published in which one statin, Crestor® (rosuvastatin calcium), taken in high doses, appeared to actually reverse plaque buildup (known as atherosclerosis). This was the first time any treatment has been shown to possibly "reverse" the disease; however, the impact on heart disease and stroke prevention was not studied.
We know that effective heart disease prevention involves:
- Knowing your heart disease risk factors
- Monitoring your health, including getting treatment for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes
- Knowing your family history of heart disease
- Making lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and quitting smoking
- Possibly taking medication.
Are these heart-healthy strategies capable of reversing heart disease? Most physicians would say that these changes can prevent the worsening of plaque buildup or slow its progression, but will not reverse it. For example, some studies have shown that, with intensive lifestyle changes, the arteries with the worst plaque buildup can improve; however, there was little impact on the arteries with smaller buildups of plaque.
Remember, there is a big difference between reversing heart disease and preventing heart disease. This is because plaque buildup does not usually cause problems until the majority of an artery is blocked. What is clear is that heart-healthy changes can decrease the chances for having a heart attack, stroke, needing a heart procedure, or premature death from heart disease. In fact, research shows that people can lower their heart disease risk enormously -- by as much as 82 percent -- simply by adopting sensible health habits. It's never too late to start protecting your heart health. A recent study shows that among people ages 70 to 90, leading a healthy lifestyle reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by nearly two-thirds.