Inflammation’s Role In Heart Disease

The cardiologists in Jupiter, Florida at The Medical Group of South Florida, are expert in treating heart disease, but we prefer to highlight prevention whenever possible. Thus, we would like to focus on a particular aspect of heart disease prevention that is garnering much attention in recent weeks.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer not only in the United States, but also worldwide, claiming the lives of 634,000 people in this country and 15 million people around the world in 2015.

You already know the most-frequently cited ways to prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke: eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber; maintain a healthy weight; engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two hours and thirty minutes every week; reduce stress; limit alcohol consumption; and, don’t smoke.

While at first glance this may seem like a random list of guidelines, actually they all have one thing in common: inflammation, or more precisely, the prevention of inflammation. Poor diet, excess weight or alcohol intake, lack of exercise, and stress all produce inflammation throughout the body.

Inflammation is the result of various attacks on the body by irritating or even harmful stressors on the body, such as pathogens, injuries, or poor lifestyle habits. The body then tries to heal the resulting tissue damage by rushing white blood cells and their protective chemicals to the site. Thus, inflammation is necessary to keeping the body healthy. But when the body is repeatedly assaulted by various harmful stimuli, the inflammation never ends and can eventually cause long-term damage.

The connection between inflammation and atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) has been suspected since the 1800s. No definitive research had actually confirmed this hypothesis, however, until this year. Details of the research were presented this month at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Known as CANTOS, the study included over 10,000 patients who had previously suffered a heart attack and were then were given a drug meant to reduce inflammation. The drug, which costs about $200,000 per year, is not only prohibitively expensive, but its fatal side effects offset any gains in cardiovascular mortality reduction.

So why are cardiologists so excited about this research? Because it proved that reducing inflammation in the body will result in fewer heart attacks. (The drug also proved effective against certain forms of cancer, another illness thought to be tied to prolonged inflammation.)

“This is fantastic,” Dr. David J. Maron, director of preventive cardiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, told The New York Times. “The green light just went on for full-fledged investigation and development of cost-effective new therapies.”

The drug had no effect on cholesterol, which is what is reduced with the use of statins, thus proving that inflammation reduction was solely responsible for the mortality reduction seen in the study. In reducing inflammation and demonstrating a marked decrease (15%) in cardiovascular events or death, it paved the way for possible development of safer, less-costly drugs that can accomplish the same thing.

“This is the first evidence we have that if you inhibit this inflammatory process without changing cholesterol at all, you’re getting a risk reduction,” Dr. Paul Ridker told The Times. Ridker is the first author of the study and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Before cheaper, safer drugs can be developed, however, the best, preferred method of reducing heart disease in this county is through the lifestyle changes mentioned above. Of course, your cardiologists at MGSFL can intervene medically if you have heart disease, but remember that in 50% of all heart attacks, the first warning sign was the heart attack itself. Isn’t it better to take preventive measures now than to take chances with your heart?