How Does Inflammation Affect Heart Health?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Inflammation is the way your body responds to a problem. Whether battling an infection or cancer, or healing from a bone fracture, your body needs to deliver powerful immune and repair cells to the impaired location through your bloodstream in order to fight and fix the problem.

Inflammation is really designed to be an acute process that gets in and out quickly. The longer the immune and repair cells stay in a location, the greater the chance they’ll actually cause damage to surrounding healthy cells and tissues.

Chronic inflammation, simply put, is acute inflammation that did not resolve properly. The result is damage and disease.

This is why we call chronic inflammation the common denominator of all age-related disorders.

Inflammation Wreaks Havoc on Your Blood Vessels

All tissues and organs are very susceptible to inflammatory damage. But this is especially true for your heart and blood vessels.

Chronic inflammation can damage the heart’s muscle cells, the heart valves, and the inside lining of arteries called the endothelium. This can result in the progression of plaque build-up, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, murmurs, and even congestive heart failure.

Chronic inflammation can be detected through blood tests, and one of the most common tests - C-reactive protein - is also a risk factor for heart disease. Inflammation and heart disease risk are characterized by a high CRP blood level.

Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine validate the role that C-reactive protein plays in increasing cardiovascular disease risk.1,2

The findings show that people who attained the lowest levels of C-reactive protein had significantly reduced rates of heart attack.

The studies also showed that reducing C-reactive protein (CRP) levels alone cuts heart attack risk and slows the progression of atherosclerosis. For this reason, the researchers recommend testing CRP and lowering it if necessary.

What You Eat Influences Chronic Inflammation

One of the best ways to control inflammation is to watch what you eat. Some foods, namely animal protein, can actually boost inflammation. Why? Because they contain a chemical compound called arachidonic acid.

Arachidonic acid is the precursor to inflammatory signaling proteins like leukotrienes and cytokines. When these signals are released into your bloodstream, inflammation increases and tissue damage can occur.

Additionally, eating too much saturated fat or simple sugars and syrups can increase C-reactive protein. Avoiding saturated fat and simple sugars and eating more greens, fruits, and whole grains can help to keep CRP levels low.

One study showed a 39% decrease in CRP levels after only eight weeks of consuming a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber. The study participants also saw reductions in their LDL, total cholesterol, body weight, and arterial stiffness.3

What are the Best Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients?

As you make an effort to eat healthier, consider supplementing with extract of boswellia. It is a medicinal tree from the Middle East that produces a bitter sap containing a compound called AKBA.

This compound can inhibit a powerful inflammatory enzyme called 5–LOX. This is important because this one enzyme is implicated in about 1million deaths4 in the U.S. from diseases like Alzheimer’s5, heart disease6 and stroke.7

If you decide to supplement with a boswellia extract, be sure to pick one that contains 20% active AKBA.

Supplementing with the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA is another wise choice. You probably have heard that omega-3 fats decrease inflammation. But what you may not know is that when they’re combined with olive fruit extract, the effects are actually better than with omega-3’s alone.8

Another ingredient to look for in a high-quality omega-3 product is sesame lignans. Lignans help prevent the oxidation of the fats, especially DHA, extending the product’s shelf life.9

And don’t forget about curcumin, from the Indian spice turmeric. It actually inhibits an even more powerful inflammatory protein called nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappaB).10

NF-kappaB acts like a switch to turn on genes that produce the body’s inflammatory responses that can end up damaging your cardiovascular system.

Winning the Battle Against Inflammation

Remember that chronic inflammation the common denominator of all age-related disorders. And this is especially true for your cardiovascular system.

So how can you keep inflammation under control? The answer is actually pretty simple.

Cut down on the animal products. Eat more leafy greens, dark fruits, and grains. And consider supplementing with nutrients like boswellia extract, omega-3 fats, and curcumin.

References:

  1. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jan 6;352(1):29-38.
  2. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jan 6;352(1):20-8.
  3. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2004 Dec;11(6):497-502.
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm
  5. Ann Neurol. 2011 Jan;69(1):34-46.
  6. Can J Cardiol. 2012 Aug 24.
  7. Nat Genet. 2004 Mar;36(3):233-9.
  8. Nutrition. 2005 Feb;21(2):131-6.
  9. Biochem Biophys Acta. 2004 Jun 1;1682(1-3):80-91.
  10. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2009 Feb;30(2):85-94.

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