A recent study has suggested that long-term endurance exercise can increase the risk of coronary atherosclerosis. The Master@Heart study, published online in the European Heart Journal, found that lifelong endurance athletes had more coronary plaques.
So what is coronary atherosclerosis and why are endurance athletes at a higher risk of developing it? Discover everything you need to know in this useful blog.
What is coronary atherosclerosis?
Coronary atherosclerosis is more commonly referred to as coronary heart disease and is caused by inflammation involving the wall of the blood vessel.
The inflammation is caused by a poor metabolic state of the patient in question. Conditions caused by ‘metabolic syndrome’ are diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, hypertension, dementia to name a few.
As time passes, the arterial walls may develop fatty deposits, a process known as atherosclerosis.
Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of mortality in the UK, and around the globe.
Understanding the recent research
The recent study observed 191 lifelong endurance athletes, 191 late-onset athletes (who started endurance sports after age 30), and 176 healthy nonathletes who exercised no more than 3 hours per week. All participants in the study were male, had a low cardiovascular risk profile, and their median age was 55.
Fitness was measured using maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). Lifelong and late-onset athletes had a higher percentage predicted VO2max than nonathletes. There were no significant differences between the groups in terms of age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or A1C levels. Despite having a healthy BMI and body fat percentage, the control group were not as lean as both athlete groups.
Lifelong and late-onset endurance athletes mainly engaged in cycling and running, averaging 10-11 hours of exercise per week, compared to 1 hour per week for the control group. Only 22% of the control group reported not exercising, while others participated in activities like jogging, cycling, or non endurance sports such as tennis.
The findings revealed a higher overall coronary plaque burden among lifelong athletes than in the nonathlete control group. Interestingly, those with the best health were the group who exercised up to 3 hours a week. This study shows correlation but no causality and it is important to note that lifestyle modification away from unhealthy patterns to healthy patterns is key. One fact that is undisputed is that one cannot outrun a poor diet. Of course there are many good reasons to be active and to engage in sports, but cardiac protection must come through healthy whole-food plant based food as the main factor to maintain a healthy metabolism.
Seeking treatment for coronary atherosclerosis
Although advanced and calcified coronary heart disease cannot be reversed, early soft plaque coronary artery can and should be reversed.
Many cardiologists still do not acknowledge this fact.
It is paramount to modify your lifestyle to avoid harm e.g. smoking, highly processed foods, excessive amounts of sugar etc. These measures are the foundation to improve, but for some, tablets or even procedures are necessary.
If you have been diagnosed with coronary atherosclerosis and want to know more about reversing this deadly condition, book an appointment with leading cardiologist Dr Konrad Grosser. After an initial assessment, he will create a suitable and most importantly holistic treatment plan to help manage the condition.