One of the most important recent discoveries in health is that inflammation is a crucial contributor to a surprising number of conditions—from familiar ones such as rheumatoid arthritis to unexpected ones such as depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
How inflammation works
Inflammation plays a dual role in initiating and accelerating cardiovascular diseases. It indirectly contributes to cardiovascular disease as inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Decker Weiss, NMD, FASA, a naturopath and cardiologist at the Weiss Center for Health and Medicine explains that “… elevated insulin, elevated blood sugar, trans fats, and homocysteine irritate and inflame the endothelium, or the lining of our blood vessels, initiating the process of coronary artery disease.”
Atherosclerosis, the condition in which the arteries thicken or harden, is an important example of how inflammation contributes to heart diseases. Recent evidence shows that every stage of atherosclerosis—from endothelial dysfunction to plaque formation, calcification, and rupture—is driven by inflammatory cytokines and interleukins (types of proteins found in cells).
How nutritional heart helpers work
Inflammation causes endothelial dysfunction, which can lead to vascular disease and atherosclerosis. Foods like garlic and dark chocolate have been shown to promote heart health.
Garlic may help tamp down inflammation. Supplementing with garlic could aid in improving endothelial function and vascular elasticity and, in turn, prevent cardiovascular disease.
Dark chocolate may also help reduce inflammation and improve endothelial function, which leads to improved blood vessel function and dilation that significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Diet and inflammation
An innovative study on preventing heart disease explored whether diet could cause heart diseases. This study found that diets that were higher in foods that cause inflammation were associated with 38 percent higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and, more specifically, 46 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease and 28 percent higher risk of stroke.
Inflammatory foods included red meat, processed meat, organ meat, refined carbohydrates, and sweetened beverages.
Anti-inflammatory foods are heart healthy and include leafy green vegetables, dark yellow vegetables, fruit, whole grains, tea, coffee, and wine.
It follows, of course, that plant-based diets can help reduce your risk of developing or worsening cardiovascular disease.
Good fats, bad fats
One of the important reasons a plant-based diet is anti-inflammatory is because of the kinds of fats it favors. Powerfully anti-inflammatory, plant-based foods are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help reduce blood clotting, whereas animal-derived foods are high in saturated fats, which not only increase blood clotting but are also highly inflammatory.
Just five percent helps
Replacing just five percent of calories from saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality.
Supplements for the heart
The following are all potent anti-inflammatories that may have a positive effect in preventing heart diseases:
- grapeseed extract
- green tea
- olive leaf extract
- pine bark extract
- vitamins C and D
There are two important lessons from the inflammation-heart health connection. The first is that simple and delicious dietary changes and safe natural supplements may help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. The second is the need to be aware of early warning signs such as joint pain, digestive issues, blood sugar issues, fatigue, insomnia, and depression. [END]