The Underlying Causes Of Disease

We found a 5-part series which discusses the underlying causes of disease, put up by the Centre for Holistic Healthcare & Education Inc.

This series is useful to understanding more about how our body works, and how disease comes about.

  1. Toxicity
  2. Genetics, Epigenetics, & The Biology Of Belief
  3. Diet & Hidden Food Sensitivies
  4. The Microbiome
  5. Stress & The Biology Of Emotions

Source: Articles by Shawn M Persaud (


Why Does Inflammation Seem To Underlie All Sickness?

It’s a culprit in diseases ranging from arthritis to depression

Illustration: Kieran Blakey

Writing in 1889, the Swiss pathologist Ernst Ziegler observed that“a brief and precise definition of inflammation is altogether impossible.” Even back then, experts like Ziegler recognized that inflammation manifests in different ways, and that its activity can be both helpful and harmful.

Doctors today have a better understanding of inflammation and its role in illness. But their best attempts to define inflammation still lack the precision Ziegler found elusive more than a century ago.

According to the authors of a 2015 British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) study, inflammation is the immune system’s primary weapon in the “elimination of toxic agents and the repair of damaged tissues.” But when inflammation persists or switches on inappropriately, they write, it can act as a foe rather than a friend. Hardly a week goes by in which researchers fail to discover new links between inappropriate inflammation and a common disease or disorder.

Just last week, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that found the brains of children with autism spectrum disorder contain an overabundance of inflammation-stimulating proteins. The presence of these proteins suggests a novel “connection” between inflammation and ASD, the authors of that study write. And it seems like, wherever doctors look, they find these sorts of connections. From Alzheimer’s and heart disease, to arthritis, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders, elevated or out-of-whack inflammation is a common thread that ties together these seemingly unrelated ailments. Likewise, research has linked overabundant inflammation to mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder.

To understand how and why inflammation seems to underlie such disparate forms of human conditions, it’s important to recognize that the term “inflammation” refers to a vast array of biological processes. “Inflammation is a broad term for many different types of immune-related responses,” says Dr. Jason Ken Hou, an associate professor and director of inflammatory bowel disease research at Baylor College of Medicine. Basically, inflammation is the body’s response “to anything that’s bad,” he says.

From Alzheimer’s and heart disease to arthritis, cancer and gastrointestinal disorders, elevated or out-of-whack inflammation is a common thread that ties together these seemingly unrelated ailments.

One type of inflammation, Hou explains, is designed to battle harmful bacteria or parasites. “If there’s an infection or an invading virus or bacteria, the body generates inflammation that destroys the invading agents,” he says. Meanwhile, there’s another type of inflammation that signals the body is recovering from injury. When the body is wounded, inflammation floods the injured area with cells and “cell-derived components” that repair, replace, or dispose of damaged tissue, says Valter Longo, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California.

When a person’s immune system is working as it should, these and other forms of inflammation are transitory; they flare up in response to a legitimate threat or injury, and they settle down when that threat or injury has been addressed. But there are countless ways in which the immune system’s many inflammatory processes can go haywire.

In some cases, “inflammation that is normally designed to kill harmful viruses and bacteria can become misguided and start doing damage to healthy cells,” Longo explains. This form of inappropriate inflammation is present in people with autoimmune disorders such as Celiac disease and lupus, and there’s evidence that something similar may be going on in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, he says. Some inflammation may be normal. But too much of it for too long can still be harmful. This seems to be the case when it comes to persistent inflammation caused by chronic stress or injuries.

There’s evidence that imbalances in immune-system activity can lead to harmful or out-of-control forms of inflammation. Hou explains that one branch of the immune system deploys inflammation in an effort to protect the body from parasites, while a separate branch uses inflammation to attack harmful bacteria or microorganisms. “The body likes to balance these, so when one is turned on, the other is turned down or off,” he says.

But if one of these branches becomes over- or under-active, the resulting imbalance can cause problems. This sort of imbalance may help explain why rates of some autoimmune disorders have skyrocketed in recent years. “In modern western societies, we’ve almost totally reduced exposure to worms and parasitic infections, and so as that part of the immune system is not used, the other part may be becoming hyperactive,” he explains.

In one form or another, inflammation is the immune system’s go-to weapon against almost anything it perceives to be a threat to the human body or brain. When a person is free of disease, inflammation has done its job. But when problems arise, it makes sense that inflammation would somehow be implicated. Because inflammation is so closely tied to the immune system, any behavior outside the norm is bound to cause illness. For now scientists are still exploring the ways it changes the body, for better and for worse.

Source: Article by Markham Heid (


Inflammatory Anti-nutrients In Plant-Based Foods

Plant-based diets are supposed to be healthy, right? Unfortunately, there are many inflammatory substances in these foods. Learn the chemicals to watch for.

When I was 20, I read “The China Study”, which listed the miracles of a plant-based diet. In my experiments, I’ve found that the fewer plants I eat, the healthier I am.

I’ve listed 19 chemicals found mostly in ‘plant-based’ foods that can cause chronic inflammation and autoimmunity. Each person has a different immune system and can react differently to these substances. I’ve tried to list them in the order of importance for most people.

The foods mainly fall under the category of plant-based foods and secondarily cured meats.

Inflammatory Substances Naturally Found in Plant-Based Foods

1) Lectins

Do not confuse lectins with leptin, lactose or pectin.

Lectins are proteins that are found in every living organism, including viruses, bacteria, and pretty much all foods, to one degree or another – but most of them are harmless. Scientists have known about lectins since 1884.

The more nefarious of these proteins have the potential damage and destroy the cells in our intestines causing discomfort, poor digestion, and “leaky gut.”

Cell membranes in our body contain sugar molecules attached to fat and protein called glycolipids and glycoproteins (glyco=sugar). The lectins that harm our cells are chemically attracted to these sugar molecules and disrupt the cell wall.

Lectins can also spike inflammation in the gut, skin, joints and the hypothalamus in susceptible people.

Lectins are part of the defense mechanism of plants to protect them from being consumed [1].

Over time, our immune system has evolved to create antibodies that compete with lectins [2]. Unfortunately, not all of us have the genetics that creates antibodies that protect us from every harmful lectin. This is why some of us are sensitive to the lectins in nightshades, and others are not.

Some dietary sources of lectins such as wheat can directly break tight junctions in gut cells [34].

On average, fifteen percent of a bean’s proteins are composed of lectins.

Studies show that bean lectins aren’t completely destroyed after soaking for 2 hours and cooking. In common beans, the lectin content declines from 820 to 3.2 (Hemagglutinating Activity), while in fava beans it declines from 51.3 to 6.4 [5].

Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy, and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.

A study was done on 800 people with autoimmune conditions who ate a diet that consisted of avoidance of grains, sprouted grains, pseudo-grains, beans and legumes, soy, peanuts, cashews, nightshades, melons and squashes, and non-Southern European cow milk products (Casein A1), and grain and/or bean fed animals.

Most of these people had elevated TNF-alpha. The result after 6 months was a normalization of TNF-alpha in all patients who complied with the diet.

The study concluded that elevated Adiponectin is a marker for lectin and gluten sensitivity, while TNF-alpha can be used as a marker for gluten/lectin exposure in sensitive individuals [6].

Dr. Gundry frowns upon foods that originated from America.

See my podcast with the author of the study: Dr. Steven Gundry.

2) Amines

Biogenic/vasoactive amines

Biogenic or vasoactive amines are produced by bacteria during fermentation, storage or decay [7].

They include beta-phenylethylamine, tyramine, tryptamine, putrescine, cadaverine, spermine, and spermidine, but histamine is the one most frequently linked to food-related symptoms [7].

When plasma histamine levels are raised above the normal range (0.3-1.0 ng/mL) this produces certain effects. For example a level of 1-2 ng/mL causes increased gastric acid secretion and heart rate, with, flushing, headache, urticaria, pruritus, and tachycardia occurring at a level of 3-5 ng/mL), bronchospasm at a level of 7-12 ng/mL and cardiac arrest occurring at levels of 100 ng/mL [7].

Thus large amounts of ingested histamine can cause significant symptoms in otherwise well individuals. For example symptoms of flushing, sweating, urticaria, GI symptoms, palpitations and in severe cases bronchospasm may occur following the consumption of spoiled fish [8].

This condition, known as scombroid poisoning, occurs due to the high level of histidine in certain fish species being converted into histamine by marine bacteria [9].

Due to the nature of the symptoms caused, reactions involving vasoactive amines may, therefore, be incorrectly diagnosed as a food allergy.

Although 75 mg of liquid histamine can provoke symptoms in healthy volunteers [10], defining a safe threshold level for sensitive individuals is difficult [11].

According to one study, mean levels of histamine were 3.63 mg/L for French wines, 2.19 mg/L for Italian wines and 5.02 mg/L for Spanish wines [12].

In a placebo-controlled study, one study found no correlation between wine histamine content and wine intolerance and concluded that other vaso-active amines or sulphites may be more relevant in intolerance to wine [13].

It has been proposed that other foods may be able to cause histamine release directly from tissue mast cells although evidence for this is lacking [7].

One study found that a diet low in vasoactive amines alleviated chronic headache in 73 % of patients [7].

Another study reported that 27/44 (61%) of subjects had a significant improvement in idiopathic urticaria, angioedema, and pruritus on a diet low in dietary amines, although foods containing additives or high in natural salicylate were also restricted [11].

Subjects with chronic hives or angioedema had a marginally significant reduction in their use of antihistamines on a histamine-reducing diet compared to a control group who eliminated artificial sweeteners from their diet [14].

58% of adult patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) considered foods rich in vasoactive amines, such as wine, beer, salami, and cheese, to be a cause of their symptoms [15].

The diagnosis of sensitivity to vasoactive amines is usually made through history and dietary exclusion; however, some studies have suggested that the measurement of diamine oxidase (DAO) levels may be helpful. One study found a DAO level <3 kU/mL was associated with reported symptoms to high histamine foods, whereas a level of >10 kU/mL indicated histamine intolerance was unlikely [16].

Patients with chronic idiopathic hives/urticaria and GI symptoms have been shown to have reduced DAO activity [1718].

Another study reported that the size of the skin prick test wheal to histamine after 50 min, the ‘histamine 50-skin-prick test’, was a useful diagnostic indicator; 82% of subjects with histamine intolerance maintained a wheal size greater than 3 mm compared with 18 % of controls [19].

Foods more likely to contain high levels of vaso-active amines and salicylate

Vaso-active amines [16202122]Salicylate [23242526]
Meat, poultry, and seafoodAll cured meat especially pork products e.g. ham, salami, pepperoni, game, bacon, sausages, fresh pork, fresh or canned tuna, canned sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, herring, processed fish products (fish pastes, smoked, dried or pickled fish), fish sauce
Milk and eggsBlue cheese, parmesan, brie, camembert, Emmental, old gouda, cheddar cheese, and other hard cheeses
FruitsOranges, bananas, tangerines, pineapple, grapes, strawberriesGranny Smith apples, cherries, strawberries, currants, raisins, kiwi, Gala melon, peaches and nectarines, raspberries
Vegetables, nuts, seeds, and savory snacksTomatoes, pickled cabbage, aubergine, spinach, broad beans, peanuts, tree nutsAsparagus, sweet corn, raw tomatoes, tomato puree
Condiments and miscellaneousFermented soy products including miso and tempehGinger, mixed herbs, mustard, oregano, curry powder, black pepper, cardamom pods, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, mint, nutmeg, paprika, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, licorice, peppermint, Worcestershire sauce, honey, tomato ketchup
DrinksGreen tea, champagne, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, wine, beer, fresh fruit juices, smoothiesCoffee, pineapple juice, cider, Benedictine liqueur, lemon tea, black tea, apple juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, tomato juice, fizzy drinks, Drambuie liqueur, wine, rum

3) Tannins

I don’t believe all tannins are bad, but many of them stimulate the immune system too much.

Tannins are found in many plant foods and are considered anti-nutritional because they can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients [27].

Tannins are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems.

Tannins give plants their color. Some are healthy and some are harmful (to people with an overactive immune system).

Human dietary sources of tannins are tea and coffee [28], wine (contributes to its bitterness) [29], cranberries [30], strawberries and blueberries [31]. Apple juice, grape juices, and berry juices are all high in tannins. Nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans also contain high amounts of tannins.

4) Trypsin Inhibitors

It’s important to remember that plant foods have tens of thousands of chemicals and any of them can stimulate the immune system too much for your biology.

In wheat, amylase trypsin inhibitors cause a Th1 driven immune response, activation of TLR4, and cause intestinal inflammation [32].


FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and maltitol.

The term FODMAP is an acronym, deriving from “Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.”

FODMAPs caused fatigue and gut problems in people who thought they’re sensitive to gluten (33).

FODMAP avoidance should be the first-line therapy for the majority of patients with functional bowel symptoms [3435].

It can help with IBS and other gut problems [36].

6) Salicylates

Salicylate intolerance has been defined as a hypersensitivity reaction to salicylic acid, its derivatives or other related organic or inorganic acids of similar chemical structure [37].

Salicylic acid is widely distributed in plant foods (especially spices) and, like its synthetic counterpart (Aspirin), has anti-inflammatory activity. Namely, it inhibits COX-2 gene expression [3839].

It’s proposed that 2.5 % of Europeans may have salicylate sensitivity [40], but the evidence on which this assertion is based is sparse.

One study proposed that 2-7 % of all patients with inflammatory bowel syndrome and food allergies could be affected by salicylate intolerance [37]. Gibson and Barrett suggest that since there are no published studies demonstrating

7) Oxalates

Oxalates (oxalic acid) are considered anti-nutrients.

Foods with oxalates include leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, cocoa, nuts and seeds [41].

Oxalates are found in the highest quantities in sesame seeds, soybeans, and black and brown varieties of millet.

Your body can produce oxalate on its own or obtain it from food. Vitamin C can also be converted into oxalate when it’s metabolized [42].

Oxalates can bind to minerals to form calcium oxalate and iron oxalate. This mostly occurs in the colon, but can also take place in the kidneys and other parts of the urinary tract.

In sensitive individuals, high-oxalate diets have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones and other health problems.

About 80% are made up of calcium oxalate [43].

However, most of the oxalate found in urine is produced by the body, rather than absorbed from food [44].

When 59 women with vulvodynia or chronic vaginal pain were treated with a low-oxalate diet and calcium supplements, nearly a quarter experienced improvements in symptoms (10).

Some gut bacteria, such as Oxalobacter formigenes, use oxalate as an energy source, which significantly reduces the amount your body absorbs [45]. Antibiotics decrease the number of these bacteria [46].

People with inflammatory bowel disease or gastric bypass surgery have an increased risk of developing kidney stones [474849], partly because they are unable to regulate the amount of oxalate they absorb.

Foods High in Oxalate

Oxalates are found in almost all plants, but some plants contain very high amounts while others have very little.

Foods high in oxalate (100-900 mg per serving) include:

  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Swiss chard
  • Cocoa powder
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Peanuts

Drink a lot of water can help with kidney stones.

Boiling vegetables can reduce their oxalate content by anywhere from 30% up to 90%, depending on the vegetable [50].

Calcium binds to oxalate in the gut and reduces the amount your body absorbs [4151].

8-10) Sulphites, Benzoates, and MSG

I personally don’t have an issue with Sulphites, Benzoates or MSG.


Foods usually containing significant levels of added sulphite include cider, white wine, and dried fruit.

A plethora of reports in the 1980s demonstrated that sulphites in foods were provoking adverse reactions; by 1984 the US Food and Drug Administration had received more than 250 reports of suspected sulphite reactions including six deaths [52].

Foods containing a high level of free-form sulphites are more likely to provoke a reaction [53].

Sensitivity to sulphites mainly affects patients with asthma, especially those with severe steroid-dependant asthma. Sensitivity to sulphites has a reported prevalence of 3.9-4.6% in asthmatic patients, with those who were steroid dependent being most at risk [54].

A review suggested that 3–10 % of asthmatics experience symptoms on exposure to ingested sulphites [55].

An analysis of sulphite-sensitive cases in Korea found that two types of sulphite sensitivity existed, those with sulphite sensitive asthma was the most common, affecting two-thirds of their cohort, with the remainder having sulphite-sensitive hives (urticaria) [56].

Sulphites can also cause edema (swelling, especially of the lips or face), anaphylaxis, and rhinitis [7].

One study found 16% of wine sensitive asthmatics responded to sulphite additives in wine [57].


Benzoic acid is produced by many plants and is present in many foods, including berries and milk products, usually in relatively low concentrations of up to 40 mg/kg [5859].

Benzoate can also be a product of digestion, e.g. cinnamic acid from cinnamon is oxidized to a benzoate salt in the liver [60].

Benzoates are also added in much higher concentrations to soft drinks, jams, sweets, chocolates, ice creams, pickles, baked goods due to their antimicrobial properties [6162].

Benzoates have been linked to chronic hives (urticaria), asthma, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, and anaphylaxis although there is limited good quality evidence to support these findings [7].

Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG-E621) is a commonly added ingredient to savory foods. Glutamatealso occurs naturally in other foods, with the ripening of fruits such as tomatoes and the curing of meat such as ham being associated with an increase in the free amino acids such as glutamate.

Results from studies have been mixed, but overall seem to show that some individuals could experience symptoms from the ingestion of MSG, although only in quantities greater than the normal dietary intake [7].

This additive has been linked to asthma, headache, hives (urticaria) and angioedema, rhinitis, psychiatric disorders and convulsions [7].

A headache has been the most commonly reported symptom in relation to MSG [63].

In one blinded placebo-controlled trial, 61 subjects with self-reported sensitivity to MSG were tested. 18/61 had no response, 21/61 had a placebo response and 22/61 a positive response to the active challenge only. On re-challenge, a threshold dose of 2.5 g MSG was established [64].

In another small blinded placebo-controlled trial, 14 healthy individuals reported a significant increase in reported headache and pericranial muscle tenderness after taking a large dose of MSG (150 mg/kg – about 10g MSG for the average weight man) [65].

Foods more likely to contain high levels of natural or added sulphites, benzoates, and monosodium glutamate:

Sulphites (E220–E227) [66676869]Benzoates (E210–E219) [5870606971]Monosodium glutamate (E621–E623, E627, E635) [7273]
Meat, poultry, and seafoodPrawns, lobster, dried salt cod, crab sticks, squid, meat burger, sausagesDishes with a spicy sauce, ready to eat meals containing benzoatesFish sauce
Milk and eggsYogurt, cheeseParmesan cheese
FruitsDried apricots, sultanas, figs, prunes, dates, dried banana, candied or glace fruit desiccated coconut, currantsCranberries, bilberries, prunes, papaya, dried fruit, avocado
Vegetables, nuts, seeds, and savory snacksDried mushrooms and other fungi, frozen, tinned or vacuum packed potatoes, French fries, instant mash, gnocchi, potato cakes, potato croquettes, vegetarian burgers and sausages, tinned asparagus, broad beans, French beans, chestnuts, walnutsPumpkin, kidney beans, soybeans, soy flour, broccoli, spinach, baked beans in tomato/spicy sauce, dry roasted and spicy nuts, Bombay mix, crisps (except ready salted), potato or corn snacks,Mushrooms, spinach, savory snacks, crisps
Condiments and miscellaneousHorseradish sauce, caramel coloring (E150)Curry powder, allspice, mixed spice, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, chocolate, cocoa, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salad dressing, salad cream, mayonnaise, jam, picklesSoups, stock, gravy, rubs, coatings, ready-meals, soy sauce, black bean sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, marmite, instant rice, and noodle dishes
DrinksCider, wine, beer, fruit squash and cordials, soft drinks, grape juice, fruit juice drinks, cola drinksTea, squash, cordial, carbonated drinks, milkshake syrup, beer, ready-to-drink alcohol and mixers, spirits with added spices

Foods likely to be high in added and/or natural ‘food chemicals’

Herbs and spices
Strawberries and pineapple
Worcestershire sauce
Dried fruit

11-19) Other Anti-Nutrients in Plant Foods:

  • Non-protein amino acids
  • Glycosides
  • Alkaloids (includes solanine, chaconine)
  • Triterpenes
  • Lignins


High saponin foods include quinoa.

Phytic Acid (Also Called Phytate)

Phytate interferes with the absorption of minerals.

Phytic acid can block the absorption of phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc, and increase the absorption of copper.

Phytic acid also inhibits certain essential digestive enzymes (amylase, trypsin, and pepsin).

Read more about phytates.


Gluten is one of the most difficult-to-digest plant proteins. It’s an enzyme inhibitor that has become notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress.


Isoflavones are highest in soybeans. It can have estrogenic effects and cause hormonal changes and contribute to digestive issues. These are considered endocrine disruptors.



Fight Inflammation To Help Prevent Heart Disease

You probably already know that high cholesterol and blood pressure are major risk factors for heart disease. But do you know about inflammation? Recent research shows it plays a key role, and that working to reduce it can prevent heart attacks and strokes.

A woman clutches her chest in pain.

“Just like we’re targeting blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, we also need to target inflammation,” says Erin Michos, M.D., M.H.S., associate director of preventive cardiology for the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “We all should be making an effort to reduce chronic inflammation in our bodies.”

To protect your heart from the damaging effects of inflammation, here’s what you need to know.

Studies Point to Inflammation

Two decades ago, researchers discovered that high levels of inflammation were associated with an increased chance of having a heart attack or stroke. However, what they didn’t know was whether anti-inflammatory treatments could prevent those events from occurring.

In 2008, the JUPITER study found that for older adults who did not have elevated blood cholesterol but who did have elevated blood levels of inflammatory markers, treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs reduced the number of heart attacks and strokes. But it wasn’t clear whether that was because statins reduced inflammation or because they further lowered bad cholesterol, since they do both.

However, a recent clinical trial called CANTOS studied an injectable antibody type of anti-inflammatory drug in people who had a prior heart attack and who also had elevated inflammatory markers despite statin treatment. This landmark study finally proved that targeting inflammation without changing cholesterol levels can have a significant impact. People treated with the novel anti-inflammatory treatment reduced their likelihood of subsequent heart attacks or strokes by 15 percent. It also decreased the need for major interventions such as angioplasty and bypass surgery by 30 percent, proving that addressing inflammation to prevent heart disease is essential. Additional studies are now looking at whether older, cheaper medications taken by mouth (colchine and methotrexate) can have similar heart protection benefits.

The Role of Inflammation in Heart Disease

Inflammation is part of your body’s immune response to an illness or injury. When you have a wound or an infection, inflammation helps fight off germs and facilitates healing. Buildup of cholesterol and other substances in your arteries (called plaques or atherosclerosis) can set off an inflammatory response, too.

“For short-term conditions, inflammation is helpful,” explains Michos. “But sustained low levels of inflammation irritate your blood vessels. Inflammation may promote the growth of plaques, loosen plaque in your arteries and trigger blood clots — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.”

When a blood clot blocks an artery to the heart, you have a heart attack. If the blood clot blocks an artery to the brain, the result is a stroke.

Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Changes

“The good news is that you can control inflammation by avoiding factors that activate your body’s inflammatory response,” says Michos. “And, these same lifestyle choices decrease bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce high blood sugar, too.”

Here’s what you can do to reduce inflammation:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking damages your blood vessels and promotes atherosclerosis. By quitting, you can cut your heart disease risk in half.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight increases your risk for multiple diseases. But carrying excess fat around your belly is a red flag for heart disease risk. A type of fat that accumulates in the belly (called visceral fat) secretes a molecule that causes inflammation.
  • Increase activity: Exercising for as little as 20 minutes a day can decrease inflammation. You don’t have to do an intense sweat session: Moderate workouts, such as fast walking, are effective.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet: Processed and fast foods produce inflammation. Whole foods, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and fatty fish. 

Chronic inflammation doesn’t produce symptoms — the only way to measure it is with a blood test, and most people aren’t regularly screened for inflammation. Making healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to lower that risk factor, although doctors may also prescribe a statin drug for those with a higher risk of heart disease. Your doctor can determine your risk level and what next steps are most appropriate for you.