Cardiovascular disease, our Nation’s leading killer, often derives from one predominant culprit: inflammation. Cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight steal the media spotlight; but insidious inflammation, when the body’s overeager immune response leads to tissue damage, plays a key role in the development of cardiovascular disease, as well as in a number of other serious chronic diseases. Our polluted environment may be partly to blame for promoting inflammation throughout the body, but it’s clear that our Western lifestyles play a significant role in promoting an inflammation epidemic.
The functions of our body’s systems directly reflect our daily routines and culture. In the Western, industrialized world, our fast-paced lifestyles combined with poor dietary habits tend to heat things up physiologically. Excess heat results when we run too fast and too long in the rat race without resting or taking time to slow down and regroup. Unfortunately, this is the way most of us spend our days: eating on the run, not sleeping enough, inadequately hydrating and consuming large amounts of processed foods. Chronic, systemic inflammation results.
You can see a similar process in your car if it runs too long and too fast without enough coolant in the radiator. It overheats. And if it heats up for too long, it breaks down.
This is a suitable metaphor for the effect that inflammation can produce in the body. We know that inflammation — and the free-radical, oxidative stress it causes — is the hallmark of every chronic disease, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases and infections. Therefore, regulating inflammation has immense benefits — not just for your heart, but for your overall health as well.
The disruption of movement and flow in your body represents a secondary complication of inflammation. As things heat up, they tend to get stickier; and, as a result, circulation has trouble flowing smoothly to nourish organs and remove waste. In Western medicine, this stickiness can be translated to issues such as hyperviscosity (thickness of the blood) and to diseases such as circulatory blockages and even cancer. This type of thickness also occurs when a genetic tendency toward hyperviscosity, such as elevated homocysteine or Lp(a), or lifestyle factors which cause hyperviscosity, like oxidized cholesterol or elevated fibrinogen, contribute to inflammation.
When inflammation and hyperviscosity combine, they can negatively disrupt every system in your body, including the immune system. A healthy immune system should engage only in proper inflammatory responses. When the inflammatory response is too low, the immune system can’t respond adequately to pathogens and illness becomes overwhelming. But when inflammatory processes crank up too high, the body’s response becomes inappropriate or overexaggerated. You can develop allergies, autoimmune diseases (the body’s immune system attacks itself), and other degenerative conditions. Therefore, optimal immunity requires a finely tuned balance of appropriate inflammation reactions. If you can support this intricate relationship between healthy circulation, inflammation and immune response, you can restore heart health and protect other organs.
Practice stress relief
Slowing down and making simple lifestyle adjustments to decrease stress and anxiety can proactively reduce inflammation throughout the body. In this vein, research demonstrates that yoga and Tai Chi can dramatically reduce stress levels when practiced regularly.
Yoga aims to relax and rejuvenate, but it also invigorates. The constantly moving poses release dormant energy in your body. Similarly, the Chinese martial art called Tai Chi is designed to help bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. The strategic breathing involved in both yoga and Tai Chi naturally increases energy levels, while the postures and meditation keep the mind, body and spirit focused and grounded, allowing you to let go of your anxieties. Reducing stress by integrating short meditation sessions into your daily routine can have a profound impact on inflammatory conditions as well. Numerous published studies document the beneficial physiological changes that happen within the body during meditation.
Stick to a heart-healthy diet
While these simple lifestyle practices direct you toward a healthier mind and body, the greatest effects occur when you combine them with a healthy diet.
Drink plenty of fresh, clean water and make smart food choices by sticking to unprocessed, natural whole foods. Consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables like berries, carrots, squash, kelp, spinach and broccoli. The high nutritional and antioxidant content of many whole foods contributes to increased antioxidant activity, improved digestion, healthy inflammation response, healthy glucose metabolism, healthier lipid profiles and increased immune activity (among other benefits).
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids — such as cold-water oily fish, flax seeds, canola oil and pumpkin seeds — also help to decrease inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease and improve brain function.
Reversing chronic inflammation
In addition to the inflammatory effects of the typical Western lifestyle, new research shows that elevated levels of a substance called galectin-3 in the body can also promote chronic inflammation throughout the body. Numerous published studies have shown that galectin-3 can contribute to fibrosis, heart disease, kidney disease and even metastatic cancer. A new blood test approved by the Food and Drug Administration can now measure circulating galectin-3 levels.
Fortunately, certain natural supplements, in combination with healthy lifestyle modifications, can profoundly improve cardiovascular difficulties and other diseases by blocking the action of galectin-3. For example, a nutrient called modified citrus pectin (MCP) — derived from citrus fruit peels — has the proven ability to bind and block excess galectin-3 molecules throughout the body. In this way, MCP prevents excess galectin-3 from promoting chronic inflammation, fibrosis and cancer within the heart and other organs, and may also prevent cancer from metastasizing.
Other powerful supplements play an important role in the fight against inflammation, especially those that offer comprehensive antioxidant-rich nutritional support. These include nutrients such as alpha lipoic acid, glutathione, acetyl l-carnitine, vitamin C and botanicals like curcumin, quercetin and honokiol from magnolia officinalis. Certain botanical formulas also offer critical circulatory and antioxidant support, such as the Tibetan botanical formula called Padma Basic which has been well researched in studies published in peer-reviewed literature.
Integrative medicine can provide the tools needed to achieve healthy circulation and healthy arteries, safely and naturally. When you combine the proper supplementation with positive lifestyle modifications, a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise, you can achieve the support needed to actively protect your heart, combat inflammation and boost circulation to help you live a longer, healthier life.