What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the process by which the body responds to an injury, irritant or infection. When the body experiences one of these conditions, it releases chemical substances that are part of the inflammatory response. This occurs in order to repair the injury or rid the body of the irritant or infection. As soon as health is restored, inflammation subsides. If the condition persists, however, it can lead to continuously elevated levels of inflammatory substances, which play a role in heart disease.
Prolonged inflammation damages the artery lining, narrowing the lumen with fatty deposits called plaque. As the plaque accumulates it invades deeper layers of the arterial walls, causing scarring and calcium deposits. This damage results in ongoing inflammation as the body tries to fight the irritant. When plaque dislodges from an arterial wall, it could cause heart attack or stroke.
What causes inflammation?
The following conditions can cause inflammation and damage to the lining of the blood vessels:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol levels – LDL (“bad” cholesterol) increases inflammation when lodged in the artery wall
- Elevated blood sugar
- Bacterial or viral infections, including some sexually transmitted diseases
- Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), osteoarthritis and lupus
How do I know if I have inflammation?
CRP (C-reactive protein) increases when the body has inflammation. A simple blood test can detect CRP. Studies suggest that this test is useful as a predictor of risk for heart disease.
How can I reduce inflammation?
- Do not smoke! Smoking can send the CRP levels surging.
- Control your blood pressure. The ideal range is less than 120/80.
- Prescription statin medications may reduce CRP levels as well as lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Discuss this type of medication with your physician.
- Manage diabetes.
- Maintain a normal weight. Men’s waist size should be less than 40 inches; women’s should be less than 35 inches.
- Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.
- Manage stress. High levels of stress hormones can lead to the release of excess inflammatory chemicals.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep disorders may increase inflammation.
- Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fishes like salmon and tuna; walnuts, almonds and nut butters; whole fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens. Flaxseeds or flaxseed oil also are beneficial. Use olive oil or canola oil for cooking.
- Turmeric, ginger, garlic, oregano, basil and rosemary also are good for the heart.
- Limit saturated and trans fats, usually found in fried foods, fast foods and processed foods.
- Limit sugars and other simple carbohydrates.
- Teas, cocoa and red wine are good beverage choices that may help reduce inflammation. Stay away from sugary beverages like soft drinks.
- Drink alcohol in moderation – no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
- Take medicine as prescribed by your physician. These may include prescription blood thinners, aspirin, statins and ace inhibitors.
Should I be tested for inflammation?
The CRP blood test is widely available. If you have any of the conditions that can cause inflammation, you may wish to discuss this test with your physician.
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