Janet was 52 when she came to me worried and confused. Her doctor had diagnosed her with high cholesterol and coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries in her heart. He wanted to put her on cholesterol-lowering statins — drugs that would address both of her symptoms, but not the underlying cause.
Janet wanted to reverse her condition and knew that medications were not the solution, but she wasn't sure what to do next. After taking a lengthy health history, it was clear to me that her problem was due, in part, to chronic inflammation — something her doctor had overlooked.
Janet was overweight, didn’t exercise, and had a lot of allergies, tendonitis, and a gum infection. She thought these problems were minor and separate from one another. They weren’t. They were interrelated. After Janet went on a diet and supplement program designed to lower chronic inflammation, she began to feel better — and her cholesterol numbers proved it wasn’t just emotional.
Recent studies are pointing to chronic inflammation as being a major risk factor for heart disease. Because inflammation can be painless and frequently goes undetected, its relationship to disease has been overlooked. If you have several diseases caused by inflammation, you may have a low-level chronic inflammatory process that could eventually lead to heart disease. An inflammation is like a fire. If you don’t put it out, it spreads. It may lie smoldering so you don’t even know it’s there, but unless it’s squelched, it continues to burn slowly.
"Itis" means inflammation, so arthritis, gastritis, dermatitis, pancreatitis, bronchitis, colitis, dermatitis, gingivitis, hepatitis, and psoriasis have a common denominator: chronic inflammation. So do other conditions like some forms of cancer, asthma, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and coronary heart disease. When you reduce chronic inflammation, all of these conditions can improve.
Inflammation and your heart
Not all inflammation is bad. It helps our bodies get rid of foreign matter like bacteria and toxins, keeping them from spreading into other tissues and organs. Its protective responses — redness, heat, pain, and swelling — help the body get rid of foreign substances and prepare injured tissues for repair. Occasional inflammation is part of the normal healing process.
But like just about everything, inflammation has its down side. When it's chronic, it becomes destructive. Repeatedly inflamed tissues become damaged and break down, creating diseases. In the case of heart disease, blood vessel walls can become inflamed from either a low-level infection, high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid made from methionine), or oxysterols (rancid cholesterol).
Small quantities of red meat and dairy products, all high-methionine foods, usually pose no problems. But large amounts can create too much homocysteine, and this is the beginning of a vicious cycle, because excessive homocysteine produces free radicals that, in turn, make oxysterols.
Oxysterols are the harmful, oxidized form of cholesterol that can cause plaque to form on artery walls. Oxysterols are not only created from homocysteine, they are found in some processed foods like powdered eggs and milk, re-heated lard, and gelatin products. Some nutrients, like beta carotene, folic acid, and vitamins B6, B12, C, and E, can neutralize both homocysteine and oxysterols. Be sure you're taking a good quality multivitamin/mineral especially if you eat a high animal-protein diet. You may need stronger anti-inflammatory nutrients as well.