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How Does Inflammation Affect Heart Health?

According to Michael Smith, M.D., and Marie Parks, medical writer, all tissues and organs are very susceptible to inflammatory damage. But this is especially true for your heart and blood vessels.

by Michael A. Smith, M.D., and Marie Parks, medical writer

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

Inflammation is 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 may 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 ongoing condition can result in the progression of plaque build-up, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, murmurs, and even congestive heart failure.

Excess inflammation not only is the initiator of plaque-formation, but it is also a key player in making plaques unstable. If an unstable plaque ruptures, your body begins the healing process by forming a clot. Depending on where this clot forms, it can result in a heart attack or stroke.1,2,3

Blood Testing can Identify Excess Inflammation

Chronic inflammation can be detected through blood tests. C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of the most common tests. CRP 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 CRP plays in increasing cardiovascular disease risk.4,5 The findings show that people who attained the lowest levels of CRP had significantly reduced rates of heart attack. The studies also showed that reducing 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.

Another important test is the PLAC® Test which measures Lp-PLA2.  Lp-PLA2 is an enzyme that promotes inflammation inside the arteries making them more prone to rupture. Elevated Lp-PLA2 increases the risk of stroke.6 A review of studies conveys that people with high Lp-PLA2 and CRP levels have about 2 to 3 times the risk for cardiovascular events.7 This association between high Lp-PLA2 levels and the risk of cardiovascular events also holds true even in apparently healthy older adults.8

These tests are just two pieces of the large puzzle of factors that contribute to overall health which is why routine comprehensive testing is so important.

What are the Best Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients?

Most people know fish oil is a good anti-inflammatory. In fact, taking 4 g of fish oil a day has shown to reduce inflammation as well as other cardiovascular risk factors such as CRP and LDL (the “bad” form of cholesterol).9 Now let’s consider some additional, supportive nutrients.   

Curcumin is derived from the Indian spice turmeric and like fish oil, it has shown to inhibit various inflammatory pathways including NF-kB.10 NF-kB is a gene known as the “orchestrator of inflammation”, and should be blocked to deter the significant adverse impact on inflammation. Curcumin additionally suppresses inflammatory cytokines IL-1B, TNF-alpha, and IL-8.11

The ability of curcumin to quash inflammation in such a broad-spectrum manner makes it one of the most studied nutrients for its potential benefits in inflammation-based diseases like Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.12

Research has shown curcumin to help support heart health through various mechanisms which address factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular issues such as cholesterol and homocysteine, an amino acid that damages the endothelium.13 By inhibiting inflammation, curcumin may also help prevent an irregular heartbeat.14

Pomegranate contains polyphenols that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2014 study resulted in a 32-percent decrease in CRP and 30 percent reduction in IL-6 (another inflammatory cytokine).15 Pomegranate further promotes heart health by reducing levels of LDL16 and protects it from being oxidized (oxidized LDL causes severe arterial damage and is involved in the atherosclerotic process from start to finish).17,18

Winning the Battle against Inflammation

Remember that chronic inflammation is the common denominator of all age-related disorders and is especially true for your cardiovascular system. Therefore, it’s important to do routine blood testing and supplement with nutrients such as fish oil, curcumin, and pomegranate to be proactive in protecting your health.

For more than for more than seven years, Michael A. Smith, M.D. has worked at Life Extension in a variety of capacities, including as a health advisor, clinical information trainer and specialist and keynote speaker for the company’s monthly lecture series. A graduate of the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, Smith completed an internship in internal medicine at the University of Utah and a residency in radiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Smith hosts Healthy Talk on RadioMD.com and is the author of “The Supplement Pyramid –How to Build Your Personalized Nutritional Regimen.” He can be contacted at [email protected].

 

References:

  1. Circ Res. 2014 Jun 6;114(12):1852-66.
  2. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Apr 18;47(8 Suppl):C7-12.
  3. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther. 2009 Feb;23(1):31-40.
  4. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jan 6;352(1):29-38.
  5. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jan 6;352(1):20-8.
  6. Neurology. 2015 Nov 3;85(18):1585-91.
  7. Am J Cardiol. 2008 Jun 16;101(12A):41F-50F.
  8. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Mar 4;51(9):913-9.
  9. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2012 Jun:10(6):687-95
  10. AAPS J. 2014 Jul;16(4):649-57.
  11. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008 Aug;8(8):1175-6.
  12. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Feb 15;75(4):787-809.
  13. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009; 41(1): 40–59.
  14. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Apr 3;133(2):145-51.
  15. J Res Med Sci. 2014 Mar;19(3):215-20.
  16. Br J Nutr. 2013 Mar 14;109(5):802-9.
  17. Autoimmun Rev. 2008 Jul;7(7):558-66.
  18. Neth J Med. 2006 Feb;64(2):34-8.
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