How inflammation affects cardiovascular disease

When you think of inflammation, you might think of pain. But inflammation is a key contributor to a number of surprising conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Here’s how inflammation works, and what we can do about it.

How inflammation works

It is now known that inflammation plays an important role in cardiovascular disease. But how could inflammation be a cause of something that seems as uninflammatory as heart disease?

According to naturopath and cardiologist Decker Weiss, NMD, FASA, inflammation plays both a general and a specific role. Generally, inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease because inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Specifically, Weiss says, “… elevated insulin, elevated blood sugar, trans fats, and homocysteine irritate and inflame the endothelium, or the lining of our blood vessels, initiating the process of coronary artery disease.” So, inflammation can both initiate and accelerate heart disease.

How nutritional heart helpers work

Think of some of the ways garlic and dark chocolate can help your heart. Inflammation causes endothelial dysfunction, which leads to vascular disease and atherosclerosis.


may help tamp down inflammation. So, supplementing with garlic could aid in improving endothelial function and vascular elasticity and, thus, play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Dark chocolate

may also help reduce inflammation, and it may also improve endothelial function, improving blood vessel function and dilation enough to seriously reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Diet, inflammation, and heart disease

One of the most innovative studies on preventing heart disease started with two things we know—that inflammation causes heart disease and that diet causes inflammation—and asked whether diet could cause heart disease.

The huge study found that diets that were higher in foods that cause inflammation were associated with a 38 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease, 46 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease, and 28 percent higher risk of stroke.

Inflammatory foods included red meat, processed meat, organ meat, refined carbohydrates, and sweetened beverages.

Anti-inflammatory foods are heart healthy and include leafy green vegetables, dark yellow vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and tea.

Supplements to consider

Always check with your health care practitioner before trying out a new supplement. The following supplements have anti-inflammatory properties and may have a positive effect in preventing heart disease:

  • omega-3s
  • hawthorn
  • curcumin
  • ginkgo
  • olive leaf extract
  • pine bark extract
  • grapeseed extract
  • green tea
  • ginger
  • vitamins C and D
  • quercetin

Foods for heart health

FoodHeart-health benefitsNutrients
soymay help significantly lower LDL (bad) cholesterolisoflavones
nuts and seedsmay contribute to lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and may help lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseasefiber; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
extra-virgin olive oilcan help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and improve cholesterolmonounsaturated fats; phenolic compounds
flaxseedmay help lower blood pressureomega-3 EFAs; lignans

By Linda Woolven and Ted Snider