What medical condition affects more of us than heart disease, arthritis, or cancer, and why is it suddenly such a compelling issue?
According to thousands of medical journal articles, Calcification — also known as calcium deposits, hardening of the arteries, cysts, stones, and hard plaque — happens in all those illnesses and more.
And it just struck home for millions.
Throngs of baby boomers are rushing to get checked for calcification since rock icon David Bowie and former President Clinton had emergency operations for it. David Letterman, Larry King, CBS’s René Syler, actress Koo Stark, and many pro athletes have it too.
Calcification is the hardening of our body tissue by calcium salts. These salts contain other minerals, such as phosphorus, and are often harmful. They are dangerous because they provoke chronic and painful swelling, gumming up arteries and organs, with crippling or fatal results.
Calcification can sometimes be a disease on its own, but is more frequently found in other illnesses. Calcium deposits are in breast and ovarian cancer. Breast implant patients occasionally require surgery to remove calcium deposits that develop around the implant. The deposits show up as spots on mammograms and can be mistaken for cancer.
Calcification is often in arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Many arthritis sufferers who have calcium deposits go on to develop heart disease, but until recently the link has never been understood. Nor has the one between osteoporosis—loss of bone calcium—and the seemingly contrary growth of calcium deposits elsewhere as the illness progresses.
Although calcification occurs more frequently as we age, being young is no defense: it is often in sport injuries, and sidelines many athletes. Bursitis and tendonitis can contain calcium deposits. Kidney stones are usually calcified at the center.
More than half a trillion dollars are spent annually to treat calcification-related diseases. So why haven’t more stories explained it until now? Because until now, no one knew where it came from or how to get rid of it.
For example, look for the term “calcification” at the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed website and you’ll find about 23,000 articles about the condition, but few if any claim positive scientific evidence of a cause.
One of the barriers to finding a cause or treatment for calcification is that some experts have long claimed it is part of the body’s healing process. Because of this widespread idea, doctors have often not considered calcification to be at the root of the problem. They also often don’t associate calcification with the trademark inflammation that accompanies it.
Yet up-to-date medical manuals such as the authoritative Merck Manual of Diagnosis — a bible found in many doctors’ offices — describe calcium phosphate crystals that make up calcification as “aggressive” and provoking chronic inflammation as well as attacking joints.
Now, the discovery of a tiny particle has shown a link between calcification and inflammation. Scientists who now work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) discovered something so small that it challenges the definition of life. It made headlines when Mayo Clinic researchers found it in heart disease, while others discovered how to test for and treat it.
Basically, the scientists found that the particle generates a calcium phosphate shell while in the blood, and attacks human tissue. This provokes an immune reaction that includes chronic inflammation.
And in October, the Journal Pathophysiology published clinical trial results suggesting that when the particle is targeted with treatment, calcification seems to be reversible. [Study title: Maniscalco et al, “Calcification in Coronary Artery Disease can be Reversed by Long-Term EDTA-tetracycline chemotherapy,” Pathophysiology 11 (2004) 95–101.]
The study also demonstrated reversal of most of the clinical symptoms of atherosclerosis, including coronary artery calcification, in a majority of patients who participated in the trial.
The authors of the study emphasize that the results are just preliminary, but nonetheless the treatment that they used is available now as a combination of an over-the-counter nutraceutical and a prescription of generic antibiotics.
The problem with the tiny discovered particle that seems to be generating calcification is that no one knows exactly what it is. Its DNA remains a mystery because much of can’t be isolated using standard tests. So right now, scientists from NASA and a dozen or so international institutes are using nanotechnology methods to try and decipher its secrets.
Look for the next installment to see what they have found, and how it affects treatment.