December 1, 2002
By Suzy Cohen, R.Ph
Tribune Media Services
Q. You've said in previous columns that inflammation leads to diseases and that anti-inflammatories and vitamins would help people with heart disease. I'm not able to confirm this with my physician. In fact, he is more concerned with my cholesterol and weight.
A. Of course, being overweight and having high levels of bad cholesterol contribute to heart disease. Everyone is going crazy to bring those numbers down, but doing so doesn't necessarily mean you're safe. In one study, 58 percent of people with optimal cholesterol levels still had a heart attack. Systemic inflammation is the missing link.
Information regarding this has been simmering out there for quite some time. Inflammation, not cholesterol, is a better marker for cardiovascular health. You could have perfect cholesterol and still be a ticking time bomb.
But sometimes it takes a few studies before heads turn. The latest research, by Dr. Paul Ridker of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, looked at nearly 28,000 women and showed that those with high levels of C-reactive protein (which is released in the body in response to tissue injury, inflammation or infection) are twice as likely as those with high cholesterol to die from heart attack and strokes. A smaller study with men showed similar results.
The landmark study proved that painless inflammation in the body leads to heart disease. In fact, it's probably the single most powerful trigger of heart attacks. One day we'll see that inflammation is likely the basis for other diseases too, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, lupus and cancer.
How do you know if you are at high risk for these disorders? Ask your doctor to test you for C-reactive protein, or CRP. This is one way to measure inflammation. The higher the number, the greater your risk. This blood test costs about $35.
What causes the body to get so inflamed? It's a combination of many factors, including fatty buildup in blood vessels, smoking, lingering low-level infections, junk food, genetically modified substances, dyes, pesticides and artificial food additives and other free radicals.
So what's the solution, live in a glass bubble and eat sprouts?
Of course not. Some factors I've listed are unavoidable, but you can minimize damage by being smart. Diet and exercise play a huge role. So does vitamin supplementation. If you really want to reduce inflammation in the body, vacuum up those bad particles with high doses of potent antioxidants, especially vitamins E and C and alpha lipoic acid. Omega 3 fish oils and coenzyme Q10 are great too.
Medications of an anti-inflammatory nature also reduce CRP. You may
have wondered why Vioxx and Celebrex, two popular arthritis busters, improve
the outlooks for those with colon cancer. That's not a weird connection
when you realize that these drugs block COX-2, a chemical that triggers
inflammation and pain. Aspirin works for similar reasons.
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