Monday, March 6, 2017

Inflammation, Infection and Heart Disease

Research has consistently revealed the significant role inflammation plays in the development of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). C-reactive protein (CRP) is a key marker for inflammation that many mainstream researchers now regard as a far more reliable predictor of atherosclerosis than elevated LDL cholesterol.

But now, CRP may have met its match…White Blood Cells (WBCs).

The new red flag

WBCs (also known as leukocytes) are an important part of the immune system; WBC count rises when the body is fighting infection due to bacteria or viruses. A new study shows that white blood cell count may provide doctors with an accurate and easy-to-use tool for predicting heart disease.

Researchers examined data collected from the Women's Health Initiative, an ongoing study from the National Institutes of Health, USA. More than 72,000 women aged 50 to 79 participated, who had no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

After an average of six years of follow up, researchers found that:

  • Women with the highest WBC counts at the outset of the study were more than twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease compared to women with the lowest WBC counts

  • Those with the highest counts also had a significantly increased risk of stroke and nonfatal heart attack.

  • The highest WBC counts in the study did not exceed the upper end of the ‘normal’ range, (which means it was not an extremely high count)

  • The results demonstrate that WBC count may be just as reliable as CRP in predicting cardiovascular events linked to coronary heart disease.

The chicken or the egg dilemma

Inflammation however presents a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Researchers are not yet sure if atherosclerosis triggers inflammation or if inflammation sets the stage for atherosclerosis. In either case, inflammation presents a problem that won't be solved with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ quick fix. (But that won’t stop our friends at the drug companies from trying!)

A case in point: Drug companies have started positioning some of their products to treat patients with elevated CRP…even though CRP is considered a MARKER, not the CAUSE of inflammation.

Some natural solutions for inflammation

Enzymes such as Bromelain, Curcumin (an extract from the spice Turmeric), Omega 3 Fatty Acids from Fish Oil or Flaxseeds, are some of nature’s best anti-inflammatories. Raw walnuts are another good source.

Note: In cases of severe inflammation, therapeutic doses of Omega-3, certain amino acids and herbs (under the care of a knowledgeable naturopath) may be needed.

The next time you go for a check up, ask your doctor to check your CRP and WBC levels. Somewhere in those readings lies the spark that can ignite the potentially dangerous flame of heart disease.

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