Excess body fat can lead to a host of heart diseases. Veins and arteries become compromised, and blood vessels in legs and microcapillaries in eyes can wear out three times faster in overweight individuals. There is also an increased risk of high blood pressure with each additional pound of fat.
Most of us know the effects of being overweight where the heart is concerned. Unfortunately, what is less well known is the effect of excess inflammation on the heart. You may associate inflammation with the redness, swelling, or heat you see or feel when you get a cut, bite, or minor infection, or with the pain you feel in a swollen joint (as in arthritis). But uncontrolled inflammation is also at the root of heart disease.
Research published in a 2004 issue of the journal Circulation indicates that the immune cells of obese individuals seem to exist in a proinflammatory state, which places these individuals at an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Increasingly, researchers are showing that fat cells are prime production sites for proinflammatory messengers such as IL-6, TNF-a, and C-reactive protein (CRP levels are a well-known indicator of heart disease).
Because modern practitioners believe that a high LDL cholesterol level (the “bad” kind) is the main cause of heart disease, they prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications (statins) to people who are at risk for heart disease. However, ongoing studies have revealed that more than half of the individuals who experience heart attacks have LDL cholesterol levels within normal range. It turns out that uncontrolled inflammation has been linked to heart disease since 1985, yet we are only now beginning to accept this realization.
It is important to understand that inflammation is normally a controlled reaction initiated by the immune system to help correct or repair a problem. Inflammation can begin with a small tear in an arterial wall, causing the immune system to send specialized cells and cholesterol to repair the damage by covering it with plaque. However, over time, the plaque builds up, causing a narrowing of the arterial space (atherosclerosis). Excess inflammation can cause plaque to break free, which may result in the formation of a blood clot that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Numerous researchers believe that excess inflammation may be the trigger for a heart attack.
Here are a few things you can do to control inflammation levels in your body:
- Ask your doctor to check your C-reactive protein. If your test comes back at less than 1.0 mg/L, you are at low risk for inflammation. Average risk is between 1.0 to 3.0 mg/L and high risk is above 3.0 mg/L.
- Consume omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, and especially high-quality fish oils daily, and avoid excess inflammation-producing fats found primarily in meats, dairy, and egg yolks.
- Supplement with proven inflammation-reducing herbs such as turmeric, ginger, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
- Get sufficient sleep and exercise regularly.
Immunity–Too Much of a Good Thing?
According to Dr. Paul Ridker, a Harvard University medical professor, those of us who express a highly tuned immune system–and therefore a faster and more intense inflammatory response–may be at greater risk for a heart attack than those who have higher levels of cholesterol but lower levels of inflammation. This may answer the question: why do some people with advanced heart disease (i.e., badly blocked arteries) survive for years, while others, whose levels of cholesterol and arterial congestion were relatively low, had heart attacks? Further, it drives home just how important it is to your heart health to control excess inflammation.