Diet and Aortic Valve Disease

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The aortic valves control the flow of blood to the heart - they open and close as needed. If the valves become sufficiently damaged or diseased they do not function properly. The failure of the valves to open fully requires the heart to work harder. If they do not fully close the heart’s ability to supply itself and the rest of the body with oxygenated blood is reduced.

Years ago, before the widespread use of antibiotics, most of the problems with the aortic valves resulted from bacterial infections. Today aortic valve disease is increasingly a degenerative disease with the same risk factors seen for atherosclerotic disease of the arteries. Increased total cholesterol to HDL-cholesterol ratio as well as inflammation, smoking, hypertension, and the metabolic syndrome and diabetes are all associated with an increased risk of a thickening of the valves known as aortic valve sclerosis. As seen in atherosclerotic disease of the arteries the aortic valves can also become calcified. The thickening of the aortic valves is seen in about 25% of Americans 65y and older. Aortic valve disease shares many of the same histologic features seen in atherosclerosis. Like atherosclerotic disease of the heart’s arteries aortic valve disease starts in younger people but produces no symptoms until the disease is quite advanced. A recent study found that in people 45 to 54y each 31mg/dl increase in LDL-cholesterol was associated with a 69% increased risk of developing calcification of the aortic valves.1


Overwhelming research links the typical modern diet high in animal fats, salt and refined carbohydrates to the development of calcified arteries in older people. There is already more than enough research to counsel all Americans to reduce their intake of such foods and increase their intake of minimally processed plant foods to prevent and treat coronary artery disease. There is also growing evidence low levels of vitamin D promote thickening and calcification of the arteries and the loss of calcium from the bone in older Americans. It would not surprise this reviewer if low levels of vitamin D coupled with the typical modern diet and lifestyle is behind most of the aortic valve disease as well.


1. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:1200-7


By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN

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