Inflammation: Good for Healing Injuries, Bad for the Heart

Image: Mayur Gala Inflammation is all the rage in the media today – everyone from pro athletes to natural health healers are talking about its detrimental effects.

Contrary to its slight demonization, inflammation is a normal bodily process that occurs in response to injury and infection.

In fact, it’s actually a part of the healing process, and works in concert with the immune system.


When Inflammation Becomes a Problem

Inflammation becomes a problem, however, when it becomes chronic – when our body thinks it’s always in need of healing, triggering an ongoing inflammatory response.

This kind of chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in many diseases, including anything that ends in “itis” (such as arthritis, colitis, bursitis, and tendinitis).

There’s also another type of inflammation that may not be as obvious.

This “silent” inflammation involves an underlying low-grade stimulation of the inflammatory process, with no outward signs. Silent inflammation can be a major factor in the development of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, allergies, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, to review: chronic inflammation = bad, silent inflammation = really bad.


What Causes Inflammation?

There’s some great research out there on inflammation, and we know for certain that these lifestyle factors that can cause it (the silent & chronic versions, that is):

  • Stress
  • Environmental toxins – BPA, heavy metals (lead, mercury, aluminum and cadmium), parabens and phthalates (among many others!)
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Lack of sleep
  • Smoking
  • Emotional Stress – depression is an independent risk factor for the development of both coronary artery disease and stroke, meaning you really could die of a broken heart!


Common Foods that Cause Inflammation

You might not be able to control some of the causes listed above, but food is a great way to ratchet up your inflammation, particularly if you diet is heavy in these:

Sugar - Refined carbohydrates rapidly increase your blood sugar, which in turn causes your body to release large amounts of insulin.  This will often result in a pro-inflammatory response.

Red Meat - Too much red meat (>2x/week) will increase a pro-inflammatory fat called arachidonic acid. The human body needs “some” arachidonic acid, but too much can be toxic and can lead to chronic inflammation.

Hydrogenated Oils (found in many processed foods) - This one is pretty obvious!

Dairy - Dairy is considered a common food allergy that can put stress on the immune system and increase the pro-inflammatory fat, arachidonic acid.

Gluten - A common food allergen that can result in an immediate inflammatory response when it enters the body.

Too Much Coffee or Alcohol - enough said!


How to Tell if you Have Chronic or Silent Inflammation

If you identified with one to many of the causes above, you’re constantly feeling run-down and sluggish, and you’re prone to getting every little bug, flu and virus that crosses your path, there might be an inflammation problem.

Even if these symptoms don’t appear, however, your body may be riddled with inflammation that will catch up with you later.

If you’re worried about inflammation, you might want to see an MD or naturopathic doctor. We can order a blood test, called C-reactive protein (CRP), to measure inflammation in the body.

If you have a history in your family of heart disease, in particular, you might also want to discuss these tests with your MD or ND: Lipoprotein (a), Apolipoprotein B, homocysteine and LDL particle size.


How to Beat Inflammation

Fear not! Inflammation can have a nasty impact, but there are ways to mitigate the harm it causes.


Eating heart-smart foods – Dark, leafy greens, berries, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, fish, and legumes are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants that help to reduce CRP and inflammation.

Minimize stress and get enough sleep – The stress hormone cortisol can have detrimental effects on the body when released in large amounts during chronic stress. Practice stress management techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation.  Also support your stress glands (the adrenal glands), with B vitamins and herbs such as Rhodiola, Siberian ginseng and Ashwagandha.

Include fish oil in your diet – Take a minimum of 800 mg EPA and 400 mg DHA from good quality fish oil daily.

Eat lots and lots of curry – The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers of curcumin (found in high doses in the root turmeric, a common ingredient in curry powders)

Spice it up – Turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, rosemary and ginger all possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Supplement with Vitamin C and lysine - Double Nobel prize recipient Dr. Linus Pauling studied the powerful effects of combining both Vitamin C and lysine for reducing inflammation and preventing and treating arterial plaque and heart disease.

 … and CoQ10 and Magnesium – Both of these popular heart supportive supplements are not to be forgotten and in my opinion are fundamentals for the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Happy Heart Month!