Inflammation and Sudden Heart Attack
Summer was the busiest and best season for Ken, the owner of a small-engine repair shop. But Ken’s long hours and hectic schedule were interrupted—permanently. At age 46, overweight and a smoker, Ken’s first symptom of heart trouble was his last—he fell victim to a sudden, fatal heart attack. Ken had been sure he was fine. He had never chest pain or shortness of breath.
Ken’s story is not uncommon. Although heart attacks occur when arteries become narrowed by cholesterol, this occurs less than 30 percent of the time.[i] Instead, most heart attacks and many strokes originate from small but unstable fatty deposits in arteries called plaques. When they rupture, they release deadly compounds that can produce life-threatening clots.
Although arteries have often been compared to ordinary plumbing pipes, these vessels are much more complex than simple pipes. Arteries are living tissues that contain powerful chemicals involved in immune function, inflammation, clotting, and more.[ii]
The most common disease of these living tissues is atherosclerosis, once called “hardening of the arteries.” But it actually involves more than “hardening” (sclerosis). Atherosclerosis also involves a “mushy,” fat component. In fact, the process begins when fats (such as cholesterol) move from the blood into the lining of the blood vessels. These fatty deposits trigger inflammation.
When working correctly, acute (short-term) inflammation causes the body’s immune system heal when injuries have occurred. But chronic (long-term) over activation of the immune system can cause serious problems. Such is the case in diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. It is also true in atherosclerosis.
Inflammation literally means “on fire.”
Indeed, scientists now realize chronic inflammation is a major—if not the major—culprit in coronary artery disease. It underlies not only the creation of fatty plaques but also their growth and rupture.
Is there anything we can do to dampen the fires of inflammation in our bodies? Fortunately for our arteries, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Although “statin” drugs can ease artery wall inflammation, lifestyle choices can have a major effect on the inflammation process involved in heart disease.
Tips to reduce risk of heart attacks
Here are a few timely tips for keeping your “ticker” in top shape, reducing inflammation and sudden heart attack risk while improving heart health—naturally!
Stop the Smokes. Smoking as few as two cigarettes a day significantly increases inflammation throughout your body.[iii] Smoking robs your heart of oxygen. Quitting dramatically reduces your risk of heart attack.[iv]
Melt Down. The fat carried around our bellies is metabolically active, producing chemicals that heighten inflammation throughout the body. Losing even small amounts of excess weight reduce heart attack, cancer, and diabetes risk. Ditch sugary drinks and enjoy fresh, pure water and soothing herbal teas.
Move it and Improve it. Lack of physical exercise is second only to smoking as a risk factor for heart disease. Daily exercise is linked to lower cholesterol levels, improved blood pressure, better diabetes control, improved mood and sleep, and fewer joint problems.
Watch Your Mouth. Gum diseases which cause inflammation are linked with bacterial infections that can contribute to heart disease. Also, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes increase the risk of gum problems. Daily flossing and brushing, avoidance of soda pop, and enjoying a diet rich in plant foods helps mouth as well as heart health.
Shop Defensively. The produce department has been called “the Department of Defense” when it comes to disease prevention. Spend more time shopping in the fruit and vegetable aisles and you can dramatically lower inflammation throughout your body. In general, animal products tend to fan the flames of inflammation while plant foods dampen them. Get more healthy omega-3 fats by eating mineral-rich walnuts or ground flax .
Get in “D” Sun. Low levels of vitamin D, the “sunshine” vitamin, are connected with increased risk of heart disease. Enjoy outdoor time in the sun, and get your vitamin D levels checked. You may need to supplement.
Mind Your Matters. Scientists have found a compelling link between stress and inflammation. Although we can’t always control the things that come at us, we can often learn better ways to cope. Take time to unwind by spending more time with friends and family. Trim your schedule and add daily time with God in Bible study and prayer.
Stack Those “ZZZs”. Lack of sleep increases heart attack risk. Tone down the intensity of evening activities; avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals at night, and your sleep quality will improve. Guard your bedtime—it is healing time.
The Living Word
God Cares About Your Heart. God has placed a longing in every human heart for Him who “lightens every man which comes into the world.”[v] Is your heart burdened with the knowledge of disappointed hopes and dreams, bitterness, shame, or guilt? Do you long for a “clean heart”—pure motives, habits, and thoughts? God cares about the health of your physical heart—but He also wants to give you a “new heart” that has been cleansed from sin, selfishness, and brokenness. In fact, Jesus came to “heal the brokenhearted” and preach the good news of salvation and eternal life to struggling mankind; “To proclaim liberty to the captives…and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”[vi]
In the Western World our hearts and arteries are suffering the ravages of chronic inflammation. We also are suffering from the results of sin, sadness, and hopelessness, which, ironically, also affect heart attack risk. Why don’t you determine today—one choice at a time—to practice the lifestyle choices that help quench the fires of inflammation? And why not let Jesus Christ—the God of all healing, comfort, and love—help you form new habits and renew your inner life today?
–Vicki Griffin & Evelyn Kissinger
Vicki Griffin is an author, speaker, and Director of the Lifestyle Matters Health Intervention series and the Fit and free! Building Brain and Body Health series. She is the editor of Balance magazine and Balanced Living tracts. Vicki has a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Cal State Fullerton. She is a member the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her special interest is in the area of nutrition and cognitive function, brain health, and addictions.
Evelyn Cole Kissinger is a lifestyle consultant, registered dietitian, and teacher. She received her Dietetics degree at the University of Tennessee and her Master of Science in Administration at Andrews University, where she later taught health education and wellness classes for the nutrition department. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
[i] AJM Jan 2009: S10.
[ii] Heart Health in the Inflammation Age. Peter Libby. Scientific American Presents: Oral and Whole Body Health. Special publication by Proctor and Gamble, 2006.
[iii] Respir Res. 2005; 6(1): 22.
[iv] Evidence-based Medicine 2004(9):28.
[v] John 1:9.
[vi] Luke 4:18.