What you need to know about inflammation to help prevent heart disease

At some point in our lives we will all suffer from inflammation and sometimes we don’t even know it. Inflammation happens when our immune system responds to an infection, injury or disease. This process is important for good health because it helps our bodies heal. However, over time it has a negative effect and can cause serious health issues if gone unchecked.

As we all know the two big contributors to heart disease are high blood pressure and cholesterol; however, did you know that inflammation is also a key contributor? There are two types of inflammation, Acute (short duration but sometimes severe) and chronic (while less severe it is long-term in duration). It is the acute inflammation we need to worry about.

How does inflammation effect heart disease?

When we have a build up of cholesterol in our arteries, which is plaque or atherosclerosis, it also triggers an inflammatory response. When this happens the inflammation irritates the artery and may promote the growth of new plaques or loosen plaque and trigger a blood clot; the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes. When a blood clot blocks an artery in the heart it results in a heart attack, blood clots in the brain cause a stroke.

“Just like we’re targeting blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, we also need to target inflammation and we should all be making an effort to reduce chronic inflammation in our bodies.”

Dr. Erin Michos, M.D, M.H.S,
Associate Director of Preventive Cardiology

How to prevent inflammation?

  • Be sure to eat a heart healthy diet, many foods such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and non-dairy products are natural anti-inflammatory foods. Eating these foods help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Processed foods and fast foods “produce” inflammation, making the risk much higher for heart attack/stroke; these foods should be avoided or eliminated as much as possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight as being overweight increases the risk of several diseases; particularly belly fat is a high risk facgtor for heart disease. Belly fat or visceral fat secretes a molecule that causes inflammation.
  • Be physically active as exercising for at least twenty minutes each day decreases inflammation. Even a moderate workout like fast walking is effective. Make it a part of your social time by walking or working out with a friend or family member.
  • If you smoke, “quit” immediately as quitting reduces your risk for atherosclerosis by 50%.

According to Hopkins Medicine, “chronic inflammation doesn’t produce symptoms – the only way to measure it is with a blood test, and most people aren’t regularly screened for inflammation. Making healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to lower that risk factor, although doctors may also prescribe a statin drug for those with a higher risk of heart disease. Your doctor can determine your risk level and what next steps are most appropriate for you.”

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