You could eat a “heart-healthy” diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight and still be at risk for heart disease.
Why? Because the root cause of heart disease is inflammation, and managing inflammation goes beyond standard prevention advice.
The whole grain diet, inflammation, and heart disease
Are you following popular guidelines by eating a whole grain diet? Opting for whole wheat bread may seem like a healthy choice; however research suggests that as many as one in five people have a gluten sensitivity.
For the gluten-intolerant person, even whole wheat products cause inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease. In fact, more and more people are discovering that they can significantly reduce inflammation by eliminating grains all together.
Other foods—such as dairy or eggs—may also cause sensitivities and increase inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet can help ferret out which foods increase inflammation.
Whole grains and blood sugar
A grain-based diet may also be too high in carbohydrates for some, causing blood sugar to swing dramatically between extreme highs and lows. This leads to a drop in energy, sugar and/or caffeine cravings, sleep issues, and most importantly, inflammation. High-carbohydrate diets—even those high in fibrous whole grains and legumes—can prove too inflammatory for some people. Leafy, colorful vegetables and mildly sweet fruits (such as berries) are a better choice.
Gut health and heart disease
Other causes of inflammation include: an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, poor function of the digestive organs, and gastric irritation. All play a role in increasing the risk of heart disease.
Studies suggest that the overgrowth of one strain of gastric bacteria in particular—“H. pylori”—increases the risk of heart disease. Caused by insufficient acidity in the stomach, the usually symptomless H. pylori is responsible for peptic ulcers—a condition estimated to affect many Americans.
How inflammation increases the risk of heart disease
Inflammation creates lesions on arterial walls, thus contributing to the formation of plaque within the arteries—a process known as “atherosclerosis.” In order to quickly repair the lesions, the body “patches” them up with cholesterol. Although an effective short-term fix, this eventually leads to the creation of artery-clogging plaque, and drives up the risk of a heart attack.
Hypothyroidism and heart disease
Whenever I see high cholesterol in a patient, I immediately screen for hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism increases triglycerides, cholesterol, and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Most people in the U.S. with hypothyroidism have it as a result of Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. An unmanaged autoimmune condition is another factor that can lead to chronic inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease.
The source of inflammation is different for everyone
You can see why reducing inflammation is “at the heart” of reducing your risk of heart disease, and why statin drugs do not address the root cause for most people. The source of inflammation can vary for each individual, but typically it involves evaluating one’s diet, immune health, and digestive function.
This explains why I look at more than just cholesterol when evaluating the risk of heart disease. I examine other markers on a blood chemistry panel, including fasting blood sugar, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, immune markers, and thyroid values.