Inflammation and Heart Disease

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Since the 1960s it has been thought that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is caused by eating too much saturated fat and foods high in cholesterol however over the last decade holes have appeared in this theory as studies have shown that heart attacks are caused by a lot more than the fat you eat.

Cardiologists and heart specialists now know that one of the main risk factors for CVD is in fact inflammation. But what exactly is inflammation and what causes it?

Inflammation and its' Causes

Inflammation is the body’s response to stop infections and repair any damage that has been done. You are probably familiar with the effects of acute inflammation, such as; if you bang your head or cut your finger your immune system kicks into gear sending an army of white blood cells to protect the area. The visible result of this is swelling and the area becomes red. 

In a similar way if you're exposed to flu, an infection or an injury your inflammatory response is turned on, and with a healthy immune system you fight off infections and injuries are healed in a short space of time.

As you can see the body works perfectly to protect you and creates inflammation to keep you safe. However it’s a problem when it becomes chronic, or in other words the body doesn’t turn off the inflammation after the initial danger has been dealt with.

If the body doesn’t turn off the inflammation it can then become destructive as the immune system keeps sending out "soldiers" to help deal with the danger, which is no longer there. This results in it damaging or killing off its own cells.

This is what scientists term as “chronic inflammation” and is believed to be the root cause of a whole host of diseases such as: diabetes, arthritis, cancer and of course heart disease.

So how does inflammation contribute to heart disease?

Firstly we need to understand that heart disease begins with the endothelium (artery wall) becoming scratched or damaged. When damage first appears the immune system sends its' “army” along with oxidized LDL cholesterol, other cells and particles  to help heal the scratch, but these components can get through the endothelium and into the artery wall. This can be the beginning of endothelial dysfunction and CVD.

Inflammation can be the cause of the initial damage done to the endothelium and if the damage continues to occur (due to poor diet, toxins etc) the body starts to become chronically inflamed.

What Happens When the Body is Chronically Inflamed:

  • Immune cells come to the injury and can get through the endothelium
  • The functionality of the endothelium becomes altered and substances that lead to plaque are drawn to the area.
  • Foreign substances more easily enter the artery walls as the junctions between endothelial cells are looser.
  • Normally helpful macrophages (that are distributed by white blood cells) are turned into harmful foam cells
  • T-cells are drawn to the area and perpetuate the inflammatory process.

As you can see this process plays a crucial role in the development of CVD, so how do we know if we have inflammation and what we can we do to reduce it?

Recognising inflammation can be challenging as there may be no obvious signs, although if you suffer with aches and pains, especially arthritic pain or irritable bowel syndrome these are all caused by inflammation. 

However one of the best tests that indicates if you have chronic inflammation or not is high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (HS-CRP). Most practitioners can do this testing and if you find it is raised then you’ll want to work with a practitioner to bring down your inflammatory markers. 

Bringing down HS-CRP is crucial as when it’s raised it can promote; inflammation, oxidative stress, along with autoimmune dysfunction that harms the endothelium. Thus why it can be one of the best predictors for risk for CVD. 

So whether you do have raised HS-CRP or you want to ensure you avoid becoming chronically inflamed there are many lifestyle and dietary factors that can help. Below are a list of ways you can reduce chronic inflammation to help protect your arteries and keep your body in a healthy state.

How to Avoid and Reduce Inflammation:

  • Avoid pollutants and smoking
  • Be sure to get adequate sleep 7-9 hours between 9pm-6am for optimal sleep
  • Move your body daily for a minimum of 30 minutes (can just be a gentle walk), however for optimal results resistance training along with aerobic exercise is best for lowering inflammation.
  • Eat an Anti-Inflammatory diet by avoiding, processed carbohydrates, refined sugars, trans-fats and hydrogenated fats. Instead eat a plant rich diet with good sources of fats that are rich in unadulterated omegas, such as; extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, a variety of nuts and seeds.
  • Supplement with  vitamin C, and E (in the gamma-/delta tocopherol and tocotrienal form).

Using this list is a great way to aid your body in reducing inflammation however it’s wise if you’re concerned about raised HS-CRP to consult with a medical practitioner who can advise you on the best course of action for you.


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