Maintaining a healthy weight helps fight inflammation

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Within the past few decades scientists have concluded that many conditions including heart disease, diabetes and long-lasting respiratory problems such as asthma share one common element- chronic inflammation. Many factors contribute to chronic inflammation including genetics and exposures to toxins in the environment. Chronic inflammation can also be driven by lifestyle factors including a diet laden with unhealthy fats and processed foods and a lack of exercise.

It was once thought that a lifetime of eating fatty foods left deposits of cholesterol on the inner surface of the blood vessels. The idea that inflammation is linked to chronic diseases has launched millions of diet plans, nutritional supplements and lifestyle programs claiming to improve health.

Metabolic syndrome is widely accepted as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. According to Harvard Health it consists of a "cluster of metabolic abnormalities including accumulation of fat around the middle of the body, insulin resistance, high blood pressure (hypertension) and abnormal cholesterol levels." Insulin resistance triggers the release of inflammatory substances that damage the arteries and help set the stage for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

Excess body fat is also linked to inflammation. Scientists have discovered that fat tissue contains the white blood cells instrumental in chronic inflammation. Fat tissue also produces an excess of cytokines, chemical messengers that are key to the development of inflammation. So it isn't surprising that obesity increases the risk of many chronic diseases in which inflammation plays a role.

About half of heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. Even though tests for cholesterol provide a lot of useful information, it is suggested that a blood test that assesses levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) is a better measure of risk for heart disease. Several studies have shown that, among people with normal cholesterol numbers, those with increased CRP levels have a higher risk for heart problems.

Controlling inflammation relies on taking steps to limit exposure to the factors that initiate the inflammation response. It's recommended that you try to get to and maintain a healthy weight, eliminate processed foods and consume a diet high in vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Exercise regularly to improve overall physical health, get plenty of sleep, see your doctor for regular checkups and don't smoke.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.