Health & Spirit

Measuring the significance of a cardiac calcium score

By Keith Roach, M.D. on

DEAR DR. ROACH: I would like to know about the interpretation of the cardiac calcium test. My husband and I (both 74 years old) had this test and got scores of 74th and 77th percentiles, respectively. Our cardiologist did not seem very impressed with the test or our scores, and said the results may mean a 5 percent chance of a heart event each year. He indicated that this was low, especially since we had both had done quite well on our stress tests, which we take annually as part of our general checkup of cardiac health.

After doing a lot of online research, we could not find anything we could do proactively to reduce our scores except lose weight (both of us have very reasonable body weight) and increase aerobic exercise. Although we both are quite active and eat well, we do not exercise aerobically, just motion and stretching exercises. May I stop worrying about the 5 percent chance a year of a heart event? -- M.L.

ANSWER: Five percent per year is an absolute number, but my interpretation may be different from your cardiologist's. He seems to think it's OK, but I think 5 percent is too high, and I would encourage you to make what changes you can.

Eating well is a great goal, but most people are able to improve their heart disease risk further through diet. It's becoming clear that a diet based mostly on plants and legumes, with nuts, some fruits, whole grains and almost no refined sugars and starches, reduces heart disease risk. I believe that a diet including fatty fish has low heart disease risk compared with a vegan diet, but others disagree and the evidence is not absolute.

There are many stress-reduction techniques that are helpful for people with high stress.

A statin drug and aspirin would be recommended for nearly all people with calcium scores like you have.

DEAR DR. ROACH: My husband loves a long soak in the bathtub, so I have made him many containers of bath salts (plain Epsom salts mixed with essential oils). I use about 2 cups of the salts with a full small bottle of essential oils, packed into a glass jar with a scallop shell for the scoop. The house smells heavenly when he is taking a bath. Since I have been receiving emails lately offering cannabis oil, I wondered if marijuana bath salts would be OK to make. I have no idea what the marijuana bath salts smell like, but I am wondering about the effect of cannabis oil being absorbed by the skin in a long, soaking bath. Would he end up "high"? Just wondering. Thanks for any information. -- Anon.

ANSWER: Cannabis oil is made from strains of Cannabis sativa, which has variable levels of THC (the substance that causes euphoria, or "high") and cannabidiol (CBD), which does not and which may have some medicinal uses.

The essential oils I have seen for use in massage and baths generally are reported by their manufacturers to not contain significant amounts of either THC or CBD. Cannabis oils with high THC generally are not legal in the United States, although high-CBD, low-THC oils have some medicinal uses. Thus, it's very unlikely that he would experience any euphoric effect from these essential oils used in bath salts.

I have read that it smells like newly mown grass or like pine.

READERS: The osteoporosis pamphlet furnishes details on how to prevent this universal condition. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:


Dr. Roach

Book No. 1104

628 Virginia Dr.

Orlando, FL 32803

Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient's printed name address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.


Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from

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