By definition, inflammation literally means, fire inside. It’s a complex immunological process involving many molecules, immune cells, lipoproteins and yes, cholesterol. These self- defense mechanism have protected us from foreign invaders from the beginning of mankind. Before vaccines and antibiotics, acute inflammation preserved our species.
In school, doctors learn how inflammation protects us from germs and how it restores damaged tissue. Clinical experience teaches doctors to recognize signs of acute inflammation, such as a fever, swelling, redness, and pain. These two mechanisms of self- protection and self- repair naturally work in harmony. This natural process destroys germs, cleans up the area and then repairs the damaged tissue.
However, this process can also damage normal healthy tissue if not kept in check. For instance, the inner lining of blood vessels, or what is called endothelium, can get damaged. When thathappens inflammation and atherosclerosis can begin. Research has shown that endothelial damage is an integral part for the genesis of atherosclerosis. These atherosclerotic plaques can turn into never-healing lesions of fat and cholesterol within the wall of an artery. These plaques can also change into deadly clots, or can obstruct blood supply to crucial organs.
Dr. Lundell, a well known heart surgeon and author of the book “The Cure for Heart Disease,” states, “It is my strong belief that if we control inflammation, we would age much more slowly, feel fantastic, and function better – today and well into our later years of life.” His purpose in writing that book was to bring truth about heart disease to a nation. His message is that chronic vascular inflammation, an insidious slow burning fire, is at the root of cardiovascular disease.
The Framingham study is a landmark study investigating cardiovascular disease. Many doctors use the Framingham risk assessment to determine prognosis and treatment for heart disease. What this means is that doctors are better able to predict your chances of having a heart attack by your level of risk factors. But how well can they really predict? Not well according a study, (Akosah, KO, et al, JACC 2003), were scientist followed 222 people who had at least one heart attack within a period of 3 years. Out of that group 70% fell in the low risk category. According to that study, your doctor would have sent you home with a good bill of health, while at the same time a bomb was ticking waiting to go off.
Another recent study looked at the direct correlation of smoke reduction and chronic inflammation. Levels of a chemical called C reactive protein were measured in the blood. The levels of this chemical protein rise in response to inflammation in your body. Throughout the experiment subjects were able to see their inflammatory levels decrease as they cut back on cigarettes, giving them valuable information about what might be raging inside. Information such as this can initiate action and motivate people to live healthier lifestyle.
But what is at the root cause of chronic inflammation? Many believe that our fast pace lifestyle and toxic environment play a critical role in its initiation. This question has been the subject of much debate, and a debate that we’ll save for another time.
At the heart of the matter, pardon the pun, is the needof a health care system that focuses on early prevention of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in our nation. We are in a battle with heart disease and doctors must sound the alarm, and empower patients with information of alternative treatments. Next, we need to help patients extinguish the flame of inflammation, and break the cycle. Finally, find a doctor who is willing to be that guide on your journey toward optimal health.