Heart attacks are brought on by the plaque buildup in the arteries, which is caused by high cholesterol, which is caused by eating too much saturated fat. However, 50 percent of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels.
Obviously, there are always other risk factors involved — cholesterol is not a lone villain. Still, it is a conundrum that has had scientists searching for clues to another substance that could have it in for our arteries. And they’ve found one possibility: C-reactive protein (CRP), a molecule that signals low-grade inflammation in the bloodstream.
Inflammation is a natural body response to tissue injury or threats by foreign invaders to healthy cells. For example, any sickness or infection creates inflammation in the body. Chronic conditions such as arthritis can cause it. So, too, can gum disease. By tracking the amount of C-reactive protein in the blood, scientists have found enough evidence to link low-grade inflammation to the process by which fatty deposits attach to and rupture artery walls.
C-reactive protein is manufactured in the liver but scientists at the University of California at Davis Medical Center found that the cells in aortic and coronary arteries also have the ability to produce and secrete it. They found that high levels of the protein can injure cells in the artery walls, which causes plaque to form. High levels of the protein also incite natural inflammation-fighters called cytokines by turning them against healthy cells.
This is a concern because a growing number of studies has found that people with even small elevations of CRP are at risk for heart disease and stroke even in the absence of high cholesterol or other risk factors. Studies also have found that elevated CRP can predict a heart attack in people with unstable angina and those who’ve had a first attack. Other studies show that high CRP may increase the risk that an artery will close after it has been opened by balloon angioplasty.
Women with high blood pressure are cautioned about inflammation because high CRP puts them at the highest probable risk of having a stroke or heart attack. A study of 14,719 women found that those with metabolic syndrome and high CRP levels are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who have the syndrome but have low levels of CRP.
The evidence is an enough cause for concern that the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recognize inflammation as a marker to assess heart disease risk.
Breed Good Health
An investment in your heart health can pay off double for your kids. All you need to do is lead by example.
Overweight and inactivity in childhood is at an all-time high. Not good, since it’s long been known that these are problems that follow kids into adulthood. Now, there is proof that the opposite is just as true. Children who start life with good heart-healthy practices learned to at home grow into adults with strong and healthy hearts.
The benefits were observed firsthand by researchers at Tulane University, home of the Bogalusa Heart Study, the world’s largest and longest-running, biracial, community-based investigation into heart disease risk and children. In 1973, the researchers began monitoring the lifestyle habits of 16,000 elementary children and followed them through adulthood. They monitored diet, exercise, and other lifestyle practices that guard against high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Only one thing about the study disappointed researchers: Just 1 in 10 kids were on the track that leads to lifelong health.