Reduce Inflammation for Heart Health

Several recent studies show a correlation between inflammation in the body and coronary artery disease.

According to the American Heart Association, research findings suggest that inflammation—an immune system response that produces heat, swelling, and redness—plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis, a process in which fatty deposits build up in the inner lining of the arteries, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Inflammation can be triggered by environmental factors, such as cigarette smoking and obesity, and genetic influences leading to medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases. Anything that can reduce chronic inflammation, studies suggest, may help ward off heart disease.

Because chronic inflammation rarely produces few obvious symptoms, if you are at risk of coronary disease, even moderate risk, for example, because of borderline-high LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels (200-239 mg/dL), ask your doctor if you would benefit from a blood test for a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP).

The presence of CRP is an indication of a heightened state of inflammation in the body. In addition to being a possible predictor of heart disease, elevated CRP levels (greater than 10.0 mg/L) may also be an indication of cancer, an autoimmune disease or an infectious disease.

A highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) test is used to determine heart disease risk. Here's what to look for:

  1. A hs-CRP level lower than 1.0 mg/L indicates a low risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  2. A hs-CRP level between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L indicates average risk
  3. A hs-CRP level higher than 3.0 mg/L indicates high risk

Getting Chronic Inflammation Under Control

In addition to helping prevent heart attacks by lowering LDL cholesterol levels, statin drugs, such as lovastatin and simvastatin, and ACE inhibitors, may also help reduce inflammation. Making some lifestyle changes can also get chronic inflammation under control. Talk to your doctor about what the best medication or other intervention is for you.

Some lifestyle changes to treat CRP include:

Losing weight. Excess weight increases CRP levels because fat cells, especially around the gut, produce inflammatory proteins
Exercising. Engaging in regular physical activity generates inflammation-fighting proteins, which may also protect you from chronic inflammation even if you don't lose weight
Quitting smoking
Eating a heart-healthy diet. Consuming saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) and transfats (from partially-hydrogenated oils) can raise CRP levels. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and getting omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon, may help lower CRP levels