The Silent Attack on Heart Health: Damaging Inflammation

Heartbeat-Heart-AttackIt’s no secret that inflammation in the body is often the precursor for trouble, especially in the realm of heart health. In fact, 70% of heart attacks occur as a result of excessive inflammation in the body, and for such a large percentage, it’s a bit shocking and discomforting to know that the inflammation, in this case, is “silent” (2). Silent inflammation is much more dangerous than classical inflammation, which physically hurts and prompts you to visit the doctor upon occurrence, whereas silent inflammation just secretly attacks, creating long-term damage without the body even knowing what is hitting it. It can take years, or even decades, for one to notice the damage done by this silent attacker, and by then, the problem has developed into a chronic disease. These chronic diseases are really just differing manifestations of the damage caused by out-of-control inflammation (1), and they range from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis to consequences like heart attacks and strokes (2).

Now, not all inflammation is bad inflammation. It’s actually good to have it in our bodies, as it is part of our natural immune system response. However, it quickly becomes bad when it gets out of control. The bottom line: The more inflammation in the body, the greater the risk of heart attack, stroke, etc. (2)

On the other hand, just because this inflammation is silent doesn’t mean that its causes are a secret as well. We know where it comes from, and unfortunately there can be many sources. All kinds of factors, including stress, environmental toxins, and diets rich in meat, corn, peanuts, wheat, dairy, and eggs, create pro-inflammatory compounds in the body, which ultimately increase amounts of silent inflammation (2).

The one way to know for sure if your levels of silent inflammation are getting out of control is to get a blood test to determine your cholesterol levels, but it’s not exactly practical to constantly have blood tests to ensure safe levels. However, there are some warning signs and benchmarks that can point to a problem. There is not one single question whose answer will automatically confirm excessive inflammation, but if your answer is yes to three or more of these questions, as laid out by Dr. Sears, it is suggested that you get some blood work done to know for sure (1).

  • Are you overweight?
  • Are you taking a cholesterol-lowering drug?
  • Are you taking any hypertensive drugs like beta-blockers or diuretics?
  • Are you constantly craving carbohydrates?
  • Are you continually fatigued?
  • Are you groggy upon waking?
  • Do you have brittle fingernails?

On the bright side, there are ways to help reverse the effects of damaging, silent inflammation, as well as be proactive about preventing it. In fact, Dr. Weil has come up with a whole food pyramid to guide people towards a more wholesome, anti-inflammatory diet. This diet includes a major focus on fruits and vegetables, inclusion of fish and seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like Alaskan salmon, Alaskan black cod, and sardines), and healthy fats found in nuts (especially walnuts), extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and seeds. Cooked Asian mushrooms are encouraged in plentiful amounts on a daily basis, along with whole soy foods like edamame and tofu, topped off with 2-4 cups of tea a day (try green, white, or oolong). There is also an array of healthy herbs and spices that can be added to our foods for that extra kick of anti-inflammatory power, and these include rosemary, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric (3).

The key to this diet is that these foods provide the opposite of what those pro-inflammatory foods provide – compounds that regulate the body’s proportions of inflammation, keeping them under control. In addition to this sort of diet, there are also supplements available that provide inflammation regulation. These supplements often include a rich blend of spices and fish oil for optimal results, as they work to promote overall healthy inflammation, blood vessels, lipid levels, and cardiovascular function (2). However, as with all supplements, we always recommend first consulting with your doctor before starting a new regimen, especially if you have any concerns regarding your cardiovascular health.

References (click to show/hide)

  1. Sears, Barry, MD. "Silent Inflammation." Dr.Sears.com. Dr. Sears, Sept. 2007. Web. 22 July 2014. <http://www.drsears.com/tabid/399/itemid/10491/SilentInflammation.aspx>.
  2. Ventresca, Mike. "The Greatest Threat to Heart Health." Mimi Vanderhaven n.d.:n. pag. Print.
  3. Weil, Andrew, MD. "Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Pyramid." Dr. Weil's AntiInflammatory Food Pyramid. Weil Lifestyle, LLC, n.d. Web. 222 July 2014.<http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02995/Dr-Weil-Anti-InflammatoryFood-Pyramid.html>.