You probably have heard lots about cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol and high blood pressure, but I’m willing to bet that you haven’t heard much about the role of inflammation.
There has been extensive studies into the role of diet and nutrition in preventing and managing heart disease. The traditional Mediterranean diet along with other diets in the so-called ‘blue zones’ were seen as being the optimal diets for the prevention and reduction of heart disease.
While early research focused on the ability of these diets to manage cholesterol and blood pressure, it’s recently been found that the anti-inflammatory nature of these diets, and the reduced risk of chronic disease found in low inflammatory diets, are far more important.
Inflammation found to be independent heart health risk factor
According to Harvard Health, inflammation grabbed the attention of researchers a couple of decades ago as a primary culprit in the progression of cardiovascular disease. However, identifying a drug therapy that leveraged this link has been more elusive. It wasn’t until the publication of a study in 2017 that reducing inflammation, even without reducing cholesterol, was proven to reduce heart attack risk and became part of cardiovascular health protocols for prevention and treatment.
This was a large scale study with over 10,000 participants. It looked at the levels of a common and very general inflammatory marker called CRP (c-reactive protein) and showed that people with increased CRP levels have several times the risk of heart problems compared with those who have low CRP when cholesterol remained unchanged.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a function of our innate immune system, our white blood cells release a chemical into our bloodstream which causes inflammation. To use a basic example of how this works in our favour, remember back to when you last cut yourself, the area around the cut swells.
This inflammation makes it easier for blood cells including white blood cells to get to the cut, swallow up any potential bacteria or dirt to eliminate them and for clotting factors to stop the bleeding and healing to begin.
Inflammation is not inherently “bad”. When regulated and under control, it’s an essential component of immune system function, and necessary for fighting pathogens and healing from injuries.
Problems arise when inflammation is not regulated, not under control, when it becomes chronic and spreads throughout the body.
It is this chronic inflammation that is now recognised as drivers behind conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, IBD, and asthma.
Chronic Inflammation: A Person Specific Approach
Chronic information is caused by a combination of factors, many of them diet and lifestyle related. Causes and contributing factors can include a poor diet or unrecognised food sensitivities, exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke and alcohol, nutritional deficiencies, the use of certain kinds of medications, chronic stress, insufficient exercise, insufficient sleep, and gut imbalances, to name a few.
Chronic inflammation can also lead to damage of the endothelial lining which can lead to plaque build up and high blood pressure. Cholesterol build up may also trigger inflammation, creating a cycle that needs to be broken.
That is why your first session with me will involve a lot of questions! This helps me to understand exactly what the driving factors in your body and your lifestyle are and how best to support your body in reducing inflammation.
A hidden food sensitivity or nutritional deficiency can end up being the primary factor when it comes to a state of chronic inflammation and disease.
How To Reduce Inflammation Naturally
There are many diet and lifestyle changes that can reduce inflammation and make a significant difference in a person’s state of well being and quality of life.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet:
Some foods are pro-inflammatory, others are anti-inflammatory. So you can think of every food you choose to put into your body as either contributing to the problem, or contributing to the solution. High sugar, processed food, and fast food are inflammatory. While a diet rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids is anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective.
Know when to choose organic:
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a guide that breaks down which produce items are most important to buy organic (the Dirty Dozen). The EWG also offers a number of resources to help with choosing cleaning products and personal care products that aren’t filled with toxic, harmful chemicals.
Find ways to manage your stress:
High or chronic levels of stress contribute to inflammation. It’s easier said than done, but actively working to reduce stress and remove yourself from stressful situations can make a significant difference to your heart health. Taking time to practice self care, deep breathing, yoga, nature walks, or whatever else brings you peace can improve your heart health.
Creating a sleep routine:
Sleep and heart health go hand-in-hand. Keeping your devices out of the bedroom at night is a simple rule and one of the best ways to improve sleep quality.
A sedentary lifestyle contributes to inflammation and heart disease. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of disease across the board, and may even work better than antidepressants for depression.
Limit use of Anti-Inflammatory Medications:
Over-the-counter NSAIDs like Ibuprofen (Neurofen) and Aspirin, might help with acute symptom relief, but an over-reliance on them can contribute to a chronic inflammatory problem.
Food sources of nutrients are always preferred but may not be possible in those with digestive health conditions or limited diets. There are a number of supplements that can help reduce inflammation, however, it is always best to get the advice of a practitioner before taking supplements. Many widely available supplements including those with heart supporting claims should not be taken with common heart meds.
When it comes to heart health it is important to look beyond cholesterol at the factors that play a role in your heart disease risk. Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for heart disease. Nutrition and lifestyle change can reduce risk factors including inflammation, cholesterol and blood pressure.