How suppressing inflammation can lower your risk for serious disease

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

When people think about their risk for heart disease, they may consider their family history, whether or not they smoke, how active they are, and how they eat. Dr. Allen Taylor, Chairman of the Department of Cardiology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said that while those things matter, our bodies continuously have a degree of inflammation in them, which also has to be considered.

“Inflammation accelerates and increases the risk of atherosclerosis, we’ve just never had a way to address it,” he said.

Atherosclerosis happens when the walls of the arteries stiffen over time and narrow because of a buildup of plaque. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, and other cells in the blood that deposit along the inner walls of the arteries.

Over time, the passage through which blood flows can become narrower, and less blood reaches the body. This heightens your chance of a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.

Research has found that inflammation is a major contributor to the development of atherosclerosis.

“Inflammation gets drawn into atherosclerosis and stirs it up. And it’s that stirring it up, that makes it a risk,” Dr. Taylor said.

Dr. Taylor used the example of statins, which he said can be considered an anti-inflammatory drug to a degree.

“So statins, for instance, suppress inflammation in the body measured through a protein called CRP (C-reactive protein). It is generally believed that this is some of the way that statins reduce the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.”

Now as of June, colchicine is the first anti-inflammatory drug approved by the FDA for treating cardiovascular disease related to atherosclerosis.. The drug is intended for the prevention of heart or blood vessel problems in patients with a history of a prior heart problem.

Dr. Taylor said Colchicine can be used to significantly reduce the risks associated with heart disease.

“It reduces by one-third your risk of dying from heart disease, or having a future heart or blood vessel problem.”

However, the challenge with new medications is that adoption tends to be slow. Part of the issue is that some clinicians are unaware of its benefits.

“So, it really means that, if you have heart disease, you should be asking your doctor whether Colchicine could be right for me,” Dr. Taylor said. “And quite often the answer should be yes.”

Dr. Taylor also highlighted the benefits of Colchicine having “a label.”

“The FDA label puts power behind the ability of clinicians to order this and for insurance companies to cover it.”

Although you can measure your blood pressure or cholesterol, Dr. Taylor said it doesn’t tell the full story.

“Treating heart risk factors is important because those drive the problem. Treating inflammation is the one area we really haven’t explored or treated until now,” he said.

There are ongoing clinical studies to expand our knowledge of the use and safety of Colchicine, but Dr. Taylor said there are not many concerns right now.

Colchicine is typically well-tolerated in patients. However, People with kidney disorders may have to decrease their dosage or refrain from using the medication.

“There is a little gastrointestinal disturbance that comes from using it, but for the most part, it’s more symptoms than a serious issue,” Dr. Taylor added.

One downside to the medication is that there is no way to know if it’s working.

“Because inflammation is silent, you’re not going to feel any better. It is like treating cholesterol to avoid a future problem. And there’s no way to know if you avoided a future problem if you didn’t have one,” Dr. Taylor said.

For patients who are uncomfortable with medications for inflammation, increasing your intake of certain foods can help.  Foods with high anthocyanin content can be a natural way to decrease inflammation. Additionally, these foods typically fit into a heart-healthy diet. Regarding anthocyanin rich foods, “It’s the pigment in dark berries. So, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries are a natural source of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties. Dr. Taylor said.”

Finally, purified fish oil is also helpful in reducing inflammation through the Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA) component.

“There are types of fish oil which are prescription based (rather than over the counter forms) which contain larger amounts EPA and are very strongly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. So that’s another treatment opportunity.”

Whether it’s through medication or nutraceuticals, decreasing inflammation in our bodies can have significant benefits.

“Inflammation is a part of our human body, and suppressing that inflammation as a driver of atherosclerosis and a cause of heart attacks could be important.”

Read more about Dr. Taylor and his work on the MedStar Washington Hospital Center website.

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