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Lipids Health Dis. 2006 Jun 23;5:16.

Effects of dietary calcium on atherosclerosis, aortic calcification, and icterus in rabbits fed a supplemental cholesterol diet.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cardiovascular Research Division, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA. hhsu@kumc.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Vascular calcification is implicated in myocardial infarction, instability and rigidity of the aortic wall, and bioprosthetic failures. Although an increase in the calcium (Ca) content in atherogenic diets has been shown to decrease atherosclerosis in rabbits, whether Ca supplementation and deficiency can affect atherosclerosis-related aortic calcification remains unknown.

RESULTS:

New Zealand White male rabbit littermates were fed an atherogenic diet containing 0.5% cholesterol and 2% peanut oil. The Ca content of the diet, which normally contains 1%, was adjusted to 0.5 or 3%. Segments of thoracic aortas were dissected from rabbits for histological evaluations and Ca and Pi determinations. Rabbits with calcium supplementation were maintained for 4 months, whereas those with calcium deficiency were maintained for 2 1/2 months due to severe icterus beyond this stage. The ratios of intimal to medial areas and calcified to intimal areas were used to semi-quantify lesion accumulation and calcification, respectively. Icterus was estimated from the extent of yellowing of the skin, sclera, and mucous membranes along with gross evidence of hepatic lipidosis and/or biliary obstructions. Statistical analysis of 16 matched littermates shows that Ca supplementation significantly decreased the lesions by 41% (p < 0.05) and markedly inhibited calcification by 62% (p < 0.05). Statistical analysis of 11 matched littermates shows that Ca deficiency significantly increased the lesions by 2.7-fold (p < 0.05) and that the diet caused a small but significant calcification not seen in the sibling groups with normal dietary Ca. Ca supplementation caused a significant 30% decrease in serum cholesterol (p < 0.05). Calcium deficiency increased serum cholesterol by 57% (p < 0.001). Serum cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels in Ca deficient rabbits were 2-fold higher than those with high Ca diets. Ca supplementation decreased soluble Ca and Pi content in aortas, suggesting that this effect may underlie the effects of Ca supplementation on calcification. Calcium deficiency increased icterus by 33% (p < 0.05), which may affect hepatic clearance of cholesterol, while calcium supplementation decreased it by 43% (p < 0.001).

CONCLUSION:

Ca supplementation to an atherogenic diet inhibits atherosclerosis, aortic calcification, and icterus, whereas a Ca deficient-diet promotes them.

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