Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Inflammation — it's your body's natural response to a wound, right? Even if you didn't directly know this, you've probably experienced inflammation hundreds of times in your life so far.
Inflammation can occur due to an injury as small as a toe stub. When you stub your toe, you exclaim, "ouch, that's going to leave a mark!" which means you already understand inflammation to a certain extent. The swelling, stiffness, flushed, hot skin around your toe, pain, and tenderness to the affected area are all signs of inflammation.
However, did you know that you can experience inflammation in your heart? What's more, did you know that heart inflammation can contribute to your risk for heart disease?
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar are not the only pathological risk factors for heart disease — heart inflammation can also play a major adverse role in your heart's health.
Even if you have normal cholesterol levels, you could still be at risk for a heart attack, and it could very well be due to heart inflammation. Let's explore heart inflammation more with Zizi, including its background, causes, and ways to reduce its effects.
What Is Inflammation?
The term inflammation describes a process. During this process, your body responds to what it perceives as an injury or harmful illness by releasing massive amounts of white blood cells and immune system chemicals surrounding the affected area.
The response is your body's defense mechanism against its “wound” — as the white blood cells and other immune system chemicals work to control the damage in the wound, outward symptoms such as swelling, tenderness, flushed or warm skin, bruising, and fluid, might present. That's why your ankle might grow to twice its size when you trip and roll it, for example.
While it sounds painful, inflammation is normally good! It is your body's primary way to 'heal' your wounds, whether these wounds stem from an illness or an outside trauma such as an injury. When the swelling goes away, and your ankle returns to its normal size, this indicates that inflammation is done with its job, and your wound is close to fully healing.
However, sometimes inflammation does not go away, and this is when it can turn from good to bad or dangerous. We call inflammation that persists for a long time — even when you do not have an illness or injury present in your body — chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the type of inflammation that affects the heart muscle and links to many conditions, including coronary heart disease and heart failure.
How Do Inflammation and Coronary Heart Disease Relate?
Researchers think inflammation is a part of your immune response and plays a major role in atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when your artery walls experience excess plaque buildup, and narrow and harden in response.
Atherosclerosis primarily occurs due to bad or LDL cholesterol — as this cholesterol builds up in excess levels in your bloodstream, lipoproteins deposit it onto your inner artery walls, which causes an inflammatory response.
Unfortunately, LDL cholesterol buildups and inflammatory responses work in a tandem cycle. The more LDL cholesterol builds up on your artery walls, the more inflammation your body responds with, and the more LDL cholesterol your body deposits in response to the inflammation.
Over time, the cholesterol buildup that the LDL cholesterol and inflammation cycle produces can lead to atherosclerosis — your cholesterol deposits will harden into plaque, which narrows and eventually blocks your arteries to trigger a heart attack.
What Causes Heart Inflammation?
Injury or trauma to your heart, such as a previous heart attack or heart surgery, can contribute to heart inflammation. Smoking is also a major contributing factor when it comes to chronic heart inflammation.
Additionally, as inflammation closely links to LDL cholesterol levels, the same factors that can lead to high cholesterol may also contribute to heart inflammation. An unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and low self-care (lack of sleep and high stress) can also cause inflammation.
How Do I Know If I Have Heart Inflammation?
Heart inflammation that stems from causes other than cholesterol buildup, such as heart inflammation due to viruses, bacteria, genetics, or other underlying causes, might present with symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, weight gain, appendage swelling, and arrhythmia.
However, chronic heart disease often, unfortunately, does not present with symptoms. A blood test is the main way to determine or measure your heart inflammation. Luckily, if you already have concerns about your heart's health, you also likely are already taking monthly blood tests to monitor your cholesterol levels and can ask your healthcare provider to keep your risk for inflammation in mind as well.
How Can I Reduce My Heart Inflammation?
The easiest ways to reduce chronic heart inflammation also, fortunately, happen to be the most natural ways that do not involve medication. You can reduce your heart inflammation through healthy lifestyle changes that also target high cholesterol levels.
These changes include a heart-healthy diet, lots of physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, no smoking, and a wellness-centered lifestyle with adequate rest.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
The foods that you fuel your body with are important for your heart health. Eating the right foods comprises a primary way to lower your risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
A heart-healthy diet is one that follows or is close to the Mediterranean diet. Your diet should be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fatty fish.
You should try to cater your diet towards anti-inflammatory effects, so try to avoid foods that contribute to inflammation. Foods that can cause inflammation include refined carbohydrates (white bread or baked goodies), fried foods, sugary drinks (soda, alcohol), red meats, and processed foods (packaged snacks and cookies, sausage, or hot dog meat).
In addition, full-fat dairy products or margarine, shortening, and lard contribute to inflammation.
Instead, try to eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, including olive oil, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, fatty fish, and berry or citrus fruits. Choose foods that are abundant in plant antioxidants and compounds, particularly polyphenol. Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, in particular, may be a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.
Increase Your Physical Activity Levels
Maintaining an active lifestyle is very important for maintaining a healthy heart. Engaging in physical activity for just thirty minutes at a time, for as few as two to three times a week, can greatly lower your risk for heart disease.
What’s more, physical activity promotes positive mental health and a healthy weight!
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
If you are overweight or obese, you could be at a higher risk of heart disease and other types of diseases. Too many lipids can build up and cause a blockage of blood flow through a coronary artery, increasing the chance for a heart attack. In particular, if you have a lot of fat around your abdomen or belly area, you are at increased risk for more inflammation. This is because the type of fat that builds up around your belly, called visceral fat, releases a molecule that can lead to inflammation.
While it is impossible to target your fat loss to just one area of your body, you can create an overall weight loss goal that will include belly fat and have a result that leaves your whole body feeling happier and healthier!
Smoking can lead to chronic inflammation in your blood vessels, especially the blood vessels surrounding your heart. You put yourself at a huge risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease if you smoke.
When you quit smoking, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by as much as fifty percent!
Live a Wellness-Centered Lifestyle
In addition to staying active and eating a heart-healthy diet with little to no alcohol and no smoking, you should also focus on other aspects of your lifestyle that pertain to wellness! A little bit of self-care will go a long way when it comes to your heart health.
You should ensure that you get adequate sleep each night. Aim for around eight hours of sleep to feel well-rested and to let your body recharge. You should also engage in mindful activities that reduce your stress levels because high stress can reduce chemicals in your body that contribute to your risk for heart disease.
Finally, you should stay hydrated; proper hydration helps you maintain healthy energy levels to tackle your day.
Heart Health Made Easy With Zizi
At Zizi, we believe that you are the most powerful agent when it comes to supporting your heart health. That is why we focus on natural solutions — better heart health should feel accessible, simple, and understandable to all, which is why we design programs to improve your heart health from the comfort of your own home!
Try our monthly heart health program; it’s a great way to address your risk for heart inflammation in particular. You will gain access to monthly testing and easy results so that you can monitor your risk for inflammation.
You can also start taking plant-based supplements rich in polyphenols to lower your inflammation. Finally, you will have access to nutrition and exercise programs. Heart health starts with you, and Zizi is here to help you in that journey.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.
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