Increased levels of inflammation may lead to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Inflammation is the body’s response to infection or to any substance that can cause injury or illness. White blood cells and chemical messengers such as cytokines move to the site of injury leading to swelling and redness. Acute inflammation is short-lived and promotes healing by repairing damaged cells.
Chronic inflammation is caused by prolonged exposure to toxins such as those from processed foods, cigarette smoke and excess fat. Atherosclerosis develops from chronic inflammation. Too much cholesterol in the blood attracts white blood cells and other inflammatory mediators creating a plaque in the inner blood vessel wall. Continued high levels of cholesterol increases the number and size of these plaques which may rupture and lead to clots. A clot that blocks an artery to the heart causes a heart attack while a clot that blocks an artery to the brain leads to a stroke.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a biological marker that signifies increased inflammation in the body. Even low levels of CRP reflect subclinical chronic inflammation and may indicate unhealthy blood vessels. Studies have reported that those with increased levels of CRP have a higher risk of heart disease. A recent clinical trial showed that anti-inflammatory therapy significantly decreases the likelihood of recurrence of heart disease and stroke.
Controlling inflammation to prevent cardiovascular disease is highly beneficial. Hypertension, high blood sugar and high cholesterol activate the body’s inflammatory response so lifestyle modifications that control these conditions will have long lasting health benefits. Some of these lifestyle changes include:
- Healthy diet: Avoid processed and fast foods because they can trigger inflammation. Eat more whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Daily exercise: At least 20 minutes of regular exercise daily can decrease inflammation. Fast walking and other moderate workouts are effective. There is no need for intense aerobic exercise which can sometimes trigger inflammation.
- Weight management: Being overweight can result in having visceral fat or excess belly fat which can activate chronic inflammatory response.
- Adequate sleep: Lack of sleep leads to poor energy and decreased productivity as well as increased inflammation.
- Smoking cessation: Smoking injures blood vessels and leads to atherosclerosis. Quitting smoking dramatically lowers inflammation levels within a couple of weeks and also reduces heart disease risk by half.
- Limited alcohol intake: Low levels of alcohol consumption can actually decrease inflammation and lower CRP levels. But high alcohol intake can induce stress, decrease antioxidants and induce inflammation leading to various alcohol-induced illnesses.
- Stress management: Stress can lead to inflammation and also worsening of cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and depression.
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