Many people think of cholesterol and statin drugs when they think about heart disease risk, but new research has shown that over half of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.
Moreover, LDL cholesterol levels do not predict cardiovascular disease accurately, and statin treatments for high cholesterol may not help prevent heart disease.
In contrast, chronic inflammation in your body can play a role in the most severe forms of cardiovascular disease. That’s why inflammation is a reliable indicator of heart disease risk.
Inflammation is a process in which your body releases chemicals and white blood immune cells to aid in the healing process. Normally, inflammation occurs during injuries and infections — think of a badly stubbed toe or a tooth infection.
But chronic low-grade inflammation occurs when your body releases these same chemicals in response to being sedentary, overweight, having too-high levels of blood sugar, or other stressors.
According to the inflammation theory of heart disease, inflammation contributes to different forms of cardiovascular risk, including atherosclerosis (arterial plaque formation).
In atherosclerosis, your body initiates an inflammatory response to “fight” the buildup of cholesterol in your circulatory system, which narrows and stiffens your veins and arteries. These clots of plaque and immune byproducts are responsible for most heart attacks and strokes.
Top 3 Lab Tests for Inflammation
Chronic inflammation has few warning signs, but proper lab testing allows for early detection of potentially lethal cardiovascular disease.
If you want to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, you can ask your doctor for these lab tests to better understand your risk factors.
Less than ideal lab results can indicate inflammation and elevated heart disease risk, but you can use these insights to make positive changes and lower your inflammation levels and heart disease risk.
#1 hs-CRP (High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein)
Your liver produces C-reactive protein (CRP) during injury or infection, as well as during chronic inflammation. The hs-CRP test is a measure of how much inflammation is occurring in your body.
Because inflammation increases your risk of heart problems, the hs-CRP test is an excellent method for early detection of cardiovascular issues. It can also detect heart problems that other tests miss.
A C-reactive protein level of below 1 milligram per deciliter indicates a low level of cardiovascular risk. One to three milligrams per deciliter predicts a moderate risk of heart problems, and more than 3 milligrams per deciliter means you have a high risk of heart disease.
Because CRP levels can vary over time, you should do the test two different times, two weeks apart.
#2: Fasting Insulin, Fasting Glucose, hbA1c
Having metabolic issues like insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing inflammation levels in your body.
By testing your fasting insulin, fasting glucose, and glycated hemoglobin (hbA1c), you can measure your insulin sensitivity. If you have insulin resistance, you can improve your cardiovascular health by changing your diet to improve your insulin sensitivity.
#3: Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)
Trimethylamine N-oxide is a harmful byproduct made by some gut bacteria. It causes inflammation and increases your risk of heart disease.
TMAO is an accurate indicator of the risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death in people not otherwise identified by traditional risk factors.
This marker relates to your diet patterns and gut health, so your doctor may recommend dietary changes or treatments that can improve your gut flora.
10 Natural Methods to Reduce Inflammation for a Healthier Heart
You can lower your risk of heart disease safely, inexpensively, and effectively, without using statins or other drugs.
These methods can reduce inflammation levels, lower your heart disease risk, and increase your chances for a long, healthy life. They work equally well for healthy people and people with heart problems.
Here’s what you can do today to heal inflammation in your body.
#1: Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
A high-quality anti-inflammatory diet is essential for lowering your inflammation levels. Poor diets contribute to heart disease risk.
Eating the standard American diet, which is high in sugar and processed foods, is linked to cardiovascular risk factors. These risk factors include increased insulin resistance, obesity, and visceral fat (belly fat).
But if you eat a healthy diet, you can lower inflammation and other risk factors without using prescription drugs.
A healthy anti-inflammatory diet is high in whole food proteins, healthy fats (including omega-3 fatty acids), fruits, vegetables, and fiber.
Here are the inflammatory foods you should avoid:
- Processed foods
- Sugars, especially fructose
- Trans fats
- Vegetable oils and other processed refined oils
By eating the right foods and avoiding unhealthy inflammatory foods, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.
#2: Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity is a major cause of inflammation and is estimated to kill 28 million people per year. The prevalence of obesity has tripled in the past ten years.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for multiple diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. Carrying excess fat stored around your organs, called visceral fat, is a major warning sign of heart disease risk.
Visceral abdominal fat is linked to insulin resistance. It also secretes more inflammatory chemicals than normal fat.
However, if you lose weight — especially around your abdomen — you can reduce inflammation in your body. Losing weight can lead to lower hs-CRP levels.
Consuming excessive fructose (found in fruit sugars, table sugar, sugary beverages, and high-fructose corn syrup) contributes to obesity. Too many calories leads to being overweight, but sugars and refined carbohydrates are the worst calories because they lead to insulin resistance and visceral fat.
By keeping an eye on your weight, following an anti-inflammatory diet, and exercising sensibly, you can improve your cardiovascular risk.
#3: Eat Fatty Fish and Consider Omega-3 Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish or fish oil supplements can lower your inflammation levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
The typical American diet is pro-inflammatory, with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of about ten-to-one. However, by eating less omega-3s and more omega-3 fatty acids, for a ratio of four-to-one, you can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and other causes by up to 70%.
A review of 70 studies also found that the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA can lower blood pressure as effectively as exercise, reducing salt intake, and limiting alcohol.
#4: Reduce and Manage Stress
Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety are all linked to higher levels of inflammation and cardiovascular risk. If you suffer from these conditions, you can significantly improve your heart health by addressing them.
In addition to removing stressors from your life, you can improve your wellbeing through stress management. Effective stress reduction is simple, easy, and costs nothing.
Worrying about the future is the most common cause of stress, and leads to inflammation. However, simply by being aware of negative thoughts, you can reduce your risk of heart problems.
Deep breathing–four breaths per minute for 15 minutes–can also reduce your stress levels and improve your mood and cognition.
Meditation is another way you can reduce stress and inflammation. In a review of 45 studies, all styles of meditation improved blood pressure, heart rate, and heart health.
In short, your wellbeing and mental health affect your physical health. Start by becoming aware of negative thoughts and putting them into perspective. And if you still feel stressed out, make a daily habit of deep breathing or meditation.
#5: Get Great Sleep
Sleep is one way your body deals with stress and reduces inflammation. Poor quality sleep, inadequate sleep, insomnia, and sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea all elevate your risk of cardiovascular problems.
If you want to lower inflammation and improve your heart health, you must prioritize getting great sleep.
Improve your sleep by using stress-reduction techniques before bed, avoiding digital devices, and having a consistent bedtime routine. Lastly, if you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should speak to your doctor about obtaining a sleep study.
#6: Be Active and Exercise Appropriately
Whether or not you are overweight or obese, living a sedentary lifestyle increases inflammation and negatively impacts your heart health. But as little as 20 minutes per day of exercise or other physical activity can help decrease inflammation in your body.
You can start by making a habit of being active daily to improve your health. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away, and carry your groceries.
And if you want to engage in more structured exercise swimming, walking outside in nature, and weight training are excellent choices for reducing inflammation.
#7: Attend Social Activities
To be healthy and happy, you need regular social contact with other human beings. Loneliness is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, independent of traditional risk factors.
Social isolation or loneliness increases your stress levels and activates your sympathetic nervous system. Subsequently, sympathetic nervous system activation increases inflammation in your body and raises your risk of cardiovascular disease.
For some people it’s difficult to maintain social connections, but even attending a social gathering — like church — once per week can reduce your risk of mortality by 32%. If you’re not religious or dislike going to church, seek other social outlets like book clubs, mentoring, and volunteering.
#8: Get Touch and Other Forms of Intimacy
In addition to social contact, caring touch and other forms of intimacy are also good for your heart health.
Emotional and physical closeness with a partner can help you cope better and recover from stress faster. Additionally, the “love hormone” oxytocin reduces the impact of stress on your body and helps protect your heart.
If you’re single or don’t have much caring touch in your life, consider massage therapy. Therapeutic massage can reduce inflammation in your body, and can also help lower your blood pressure.
#9: Quit Smoking and Drinking
Smoking is “positively and robustly associated with cardiovascular disease,” so if you smoke, your work is cut out for you. The good news is that by quitting, you can cut your heart disease risk by at least 50%.
There are a number of ways to quit, including cold turkey, but be sure to replace smoking with healthier habits (like exercise and other forms of stress management) for long-term success.
Scientific evidence on alcohol, inflammation, and heart disease clearly shows that excessive alcohol consumption hurts far more than moderate alcohol consumption helps. It’s wise to cut out alcohol completely, too.
#10: Brush, Floss, and See a Dentist
Dental health has a direct impact on your inflammation levels and cardiovascular health. Poor periodontal health or periodontal disease significantly increases your risk of heart disease.
Dental caries, gum disease, and periodontal infection can all increase inflammation in your body and increase your risk of heart disease, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and atherosclerosis. Scientists have even found oral bacteria in the heart tissue of people with periodontal disease having aortic valve surgery.
To improve your dental hygiene and prevent periodontal disease, brush and floss twice daily (or after every meal) and see a dentist once or twice per year for cleaning and a dental check up.
Heart disease may seem like a scary topic, but you can reduce your risk dramatically by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
You don’t have to be perfect, but chances are you can find some areas for improvement. Whether you’re currently healthy or have already had a diagnosis of heart disease, using safe, natural methods to reduce inflammation is the key to a longer, healthier life.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, reducing stress, getting better sleep, and being more active will not only reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease; they’ll also enhance your quality of life.