Car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases linked to in­flam­ma­tion

Times Colonist - - Life - W. GIF­FORD-JONES The Doc­tor Game

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.

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