By Justin Pearce D.C. | Millpond Integrative Health and Wellness Center
Inflammation can be linked as the root cause of almost any ailment or illness a person has, including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease and even heart attack and stroke.
Inflammation contributes to health conditions that worsen heart problems, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, and obesity. These are, by the way, some of the most common health problems in America today. But what is inflammation and why do so many of us suffer from it?
Inflammation is the body’s response to an injury or illness, a way for it to defend itself and fight off foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of inflammation. The first type is acute. Acute simply means it’s a quickly arising response. Perhaps the best way to explain acute inflammation is to remind you of the last time you cut yourself. Even something as simple as a paper cut brings a response from the body’s immune system. White blood cells rush to the injured area, the injury may swell, and you often feel some tenderness and even “heat” in the area. As the body heals, these reactions subside. You may also experience acute inflammation in response to a cold or the flu, a stomach bug or the like.
Chronic inflammation is a long-term response to something amiss in the body. Again, it is the body’s immune system trying to make things right, in the best way it knows how. Chronic inflammation is not good for your body. I cannot emphasize this enough. The body is not designed to be in a constant state of inflammation.
Since the early 2000s, we have known that chronic inflammation plays a role in many conditions, including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and even heart disease. Since February is American Heart Month, I thought I would spend a little time talking about inflammation and its effects on the heart.
Although the research isn’t yet definitive, researchers think that atherosclerosis – the buildup of fatty plaque and other substances on the inside of artery walls – triggers an inflammatory response from the body. The body perceives this build up as a foreign substance and attempt to wall it off. The surrounding tissues become inflamed, the blockage worsens, and one of two things can happen. The plaque can break loose and travel to the heart, lungs or brain (causing a heart attack pulmonary embolism or stroke, respectively) or the artery can completely close, topping blood flow. When this happens in the coronary arteries, heart muscle is starved of oxygen and nutrients, causing a heart attack.
When someone talks about having to have a cardiac cath or stent, or having a bypass (double, triple, quadruple, etc.), these are medical interventions undertaken to restore blood flow to the affected areas of the heart.
One way to measure inflammation in the body is a test for something c-reactive protein, or CRP. CPR is made in the liver and sent out to the body via the bloodstream as a reaction to inflammation. Higher levels of CRP are correlated with heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, bacterial infections and a host of chronic conditions. By measuring levels of CRP, we can both see whether the body is suffering from inflammation and also monitor efforts to reduce and eliminate inflammation.
Most physicians don’t order routine testing for CRP, or for a more sensitive test, called the high-sensitivity CRP, mostly because they don’t understand the vital role inflammation plays in making us sick. Here at Millpond Integrated Health and Wellness Center, we understand how important it is to identify and address the underlying causes of illness, such as chronic inflammation.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Many things can cause chronic inflammation, but the main culprit is lifestyle. IF WE DON’T TREAT OUR BODIES WELL, HOW CAN WE EXPECT THEM TO BE WELL? The Standard American Diet (SAD) our stressful lives, lack of exercise, too little sleep, excessive alcohol use and reliance on pills are often to blame for chronic inflammation.
Even those who live a “perfect” lifestyle can suffer from chronic inflammation brought about by food sensitivities, hyperpermeability of the gut and genetic factors. The only way to know what’s causing your chronic inflammation is to get help! We do know that lowering those CRP numbers are directly correlated to reducing heart attack risk.
Here are some thoughts on making this happen:
• Enjoy a healthy diet packed with whole grains, fish, extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
• AVOID unhealthy foods, including fried foods, and those containing sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
• Skip processed, refined and packaged foods. Shop around the outside of the supermarket, where the produce, fresh fish, reduced-fat dairy and whole-grain foods are located. Eat more beans and legumes.
• Avoid refined carbs (like white flour, sugar) as this can encourage the growth of harmful gut bacteria, which can leak and cause widespread inflammation
• Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for a man; one drink a day for a woman. Less is better.
• Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen.
• Get moderate exercise – at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
• You know your body best, but most adults require at least eight hours of sleep every night.
• Practice yoga, meditation or mindfulness to reduce your stress levels. Find ways to work off your stress: Exercise is a great stress reliever.
• Get outside and enjoy nature.
Finally, visit us online at MillpondWellness.com, follow us on Facebook, or give our office a call. We can help you reduce chronic inflammation, restore your body to balance, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Justin Pearce, D.C., is a chiropractor with Millpond Integrative Health and Wellness Center, 3650 Boston Road, Suite 188, Lexington. To schedule an appointment please call the office at (859) 219-0617.