For many years, health professionals sang the same tune – stress, dietary cholesterol and saturated fats cause heart disease – end of story. Luckily, that narrow view of a complex disease is getting a much needed re-evaluation.
[i] What new risk factors should you be concerned about, you ask? The answer is found in a twelve letter word: inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a normal immune response to injury or infection. It is meant to protect your body by destroying enemy invaders; however, chronic inflammation has a more insidious effect that can compromise your cardiovascular health. Chronic inflammation can damage artery walls, leading the body to accumulate plaques in an attempt to fix the damage. [ii] The narrowing of the arteries caused by the plaques forces your heart to work harder in order to pump blood throughout your body, which leads to high blood pressure and increases the risk for hardened arteries, stroke and coronary heart disease. [iii] Inflammation also makes existing plaques more unstable, which is very dangerous because an unstable plaque can rupture at any time and cause blood clots in the arteries, which in turn can cause heart attacks. [iv]
And inflammation doesn’t just impact the heart – its effect is felt throughout your entire body. Chronic inflammation is linked to at least 7 of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. [v] It is also linked to arthritis, Crohn’s disease and even gingivitis. [vi]
You may be wondering what causes chronic inflammation. Some of the top causes of chronic inflammation include elevated blood sugar levels, excessive calorie or alcohol consumption, tobacco exposure, and an unhealthy diet that is high in trans fatty acids and high glycemic index foods. [vii] Stress is also a major cause of inflammation and if left unchecked, the inflammation caused by stress can wreak havoc throughout your body. [viii]
The trouble with chronic inflammation is that there are often no symptoms as it damages your tissues over the decades – kind of like having termites destroy your home. It is usually a diagnosis of disease that comes first, once the damage has already been done. [ix] While an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, if you are currently suffering from an inflammation-related disorder, there is much you can do to help soothe the flames.
Start by consuming a healthy, whole food diet that is high in anti-inflammatory plant pigments and omega-3 fatty acids. Vastly reduce your intake of fried foods, trans fats, fast foods and all highly processed foods…these foods promote inflammation. Adding spices such as ginger, turmeric, rosemary and black pepper to your meals boosts the anti-inflammatory power of a healthy diet. [x] Next, work on balancing out your blood sugar levels. Reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar will help, but for optimal results you need to take a more comprehensive approach. Our blood sugar app will provide you with easy to follow diet, lifestyle and supplement tips for regulating your blood sugar levels naturally.
Exercise, both cardiovascular workouts as well as strength training, is a positive stress that helps lower the inflammatory response. And last but certainly not least, you need to reduce stress. Studies show that chronic stress causes the body to lose its ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which in turn opens the door to rampant inflammation. [xi] So take a deep breath, relax, and perhaps treat yourself to that vacation you’ve been pining after. Your heart will thank you!
[ii], [iv] http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/105/9/1135.full
[v], [viii] http://www.lef.org/protocols/health_concerns/chronic_inflammation_01.htm
[vi], [vii] http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/ss07/inflammation.html
[ix], [x] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/08/what-you-need-to-know-about-inflammation.aspx