Cardiovascular diseases linked to inflammation
This week, I learned a new word: “inflammaging.” Researchers at the University of California use it in a report that claims chronic inflammation has a profound effect on how we age, and what diseases we develop.
No one can go through life without experiencing the red, warm sensation of an injury or infection. But none see the immune cells rushing to the site to release a variety of chemicals to combat it. Without this immune response, we would die.
But sometimes there’s a “Dr. Jekyll reaction” resulting in chronic inflammation.
This negative response was exposed during research into several diseases, from Type 2 diabetes to cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and auto immune problems.
In 2013, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported a study involving 3,000 British civil servants.
It showed that chronic inflammation appeared to decrease the chance of successful aging by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.
But the most interesting finding is the association of chronic inflammation with cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
What actually triggers an inflamed reaction? Researchers believe bacterial and viral infections are responsible for initiating the inflammatory process. Over a period of years, it causes a buildup of cholesterol and fatty products, resulting in atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and the risk of heart attack.
Currently, there’s no direct way to measure chronic inflammation. But a blood test called the C-reactive protein (CRP) test shows CRP is produced by the liver in response to inflammation. And elevated levels of CRP have been linked to cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
So what can you do to decrease CRP and chronic inflammation?
Researchers suggest that a daily 81-milligram Aspirin, which has been available for more than 100 years and is used to treat so many problems, can be used to decrease CRP.
And although I’ve often criticized the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs in treating heart disease, researchers claim they, too, play an important role in lowering CRP. In moderation, chocolate, wine and tea also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Unfortunately, drugs have side-effects. For instance, taking a baby Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs daily kills about 20,000 North Americans every year due to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Moreover, the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLDs) might have unintended consequences, such as kidney, liver or muscle damage and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cataracts and emotional troubles. These potential troubles should be discussed with your doctor.
Here is the real challenge for patients. Researchers say that the steps used to decrease the risk of heart attack also help to lower CRP.
This means an improved lifestyle, such as more exercise, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, including fatty fish, fruits and vegetables, losing weight and eliminating smoking, can be helpful.
The problem is that many North Americans have a bad track record when it comes to losing weight and changing dietary habits. Look at the number of North Americans who are still smoking.
So although I’ve learned a new word this week, I’ve known for years that chronic inflammation is not good for you and can affect the heart, kidneys and other parts of the body. And that it’s associated with arthritis and auto-immune diseases.
In spite of what we know about heart disease, it still remains the No. 1 killer.