Cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and cancer have shared risk factors, including systemic inflammation, University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator Tim Byers, MD, MPH reported at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2015.
For example, says Dr. Byers, “Obesity leads to a chronic inflammatory state and circulating growth factors that have adverse effects on the heart, and can also contribute to the development of cancer.” One culprit, he adds, is “cytokines–small proteins that make inflammation and are jacked up in obesity.”
As we recently reported, inflammation has also been implicated in a wide range of other disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, and clinical depression. Here are five ways patients and their medical providers can assess and reduce risk.
- Measure your waist. Even if your weight is normal, excessive belly fat (abdominal obesity) is strongly correlated with inflammation and increased risk for chronic diseases. For example, in a recent 9-year study of more than 100,000 adults ages 50 and older, those with the largest waists were about twice as likely to die from heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness as those with the smallest waists, regardless of whether their body mass index (BMI) was normal or elevated due to overweight or obesity.Visceral fat (the kind that surrounds abdominal organs) has been shown to secrete high levels of inflammatory molecules that may contribute to insulin resistance and CVD, according to a study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers also found an association between excessive belly fat and increased levels of the inflammatory biomarker high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), which can be measured with a simple blood test.For optimal cardiometabolic health, a man’s waist should be 40 inches or less, and woman’s 35 inches or less.
- Ask your dentist to check for gum disease. Dental infections are a key, but often overlooked risk factor for heart disease, according to a new review article in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Oral infections, particularly periodontitis (gum disease) are also linked to higher risk for stroke, especially in men and younger adults.Lead study author Thomas Van Dyke, DDS, PhD, Vice President of Clinical and Translational Research at the Forsyth Institute advises patients to take better care of their teeth to potentially reduce risk of CVD and other health problems. “The majority of diseases and conditions of aging, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, have a major inflammatory component that can be made worse by the presence of periodontitis,” he says. “Periodontitis is not just a dental disease, and it should not be ignored, as it is a modifiable risk factor.”
- Track your sleep patterns. People who skimp on slumber have significantly higher levels of inflammatory markers, according to a recent study of 525 middle-aged adults. In particular, in those who slept fewer than six hours a night, average levels of hsCRP were 25 percent higher, compared to those who reported getting six to nine hours of shuteye nightly.People whose hsCRP levels are in the upper third of the population have about twice the heart attack risk of those with lower levels, according to the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).How much sleep do you need? After examining data from 320 studies, an expert panel convened by the National Sleep Foundation recommended seven to nine hours a night for adults ages 26 to 64 and seven to eight hours for those ages 65 and older.
- Take a close look at your sugar intake. Too much added sugar in the diet can more than double the risk of dying from CVD, according to a 2014 study of more than 40,000 Americans published in JAMA Internal Medicine.“Compared with those who consumed approximately 8.0 percent of calories from added sugar, participants who consumed approximately 17 to 21 percent … of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of CVD mortality,” researchers from the CDC and Harvard reported. “This relative risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more (highest quintile) of calories from added sugar.”Several recent studies have linked high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages with elevated levels of inflammatory markers, the researchers report. Animal studies suggest that excessive intake of refined sugar may also contribute to developing high blood pressure.
- Inflammation testing. Even seemingly healthy people can have hidden risk for heart attack or stroke. About 50 percent of these events occur in patients with normal cholesterol levels. Recent studies suggest that inflammation contributes to both plaque buildup in the arteries and plaque rupture, which can ignite a heart attack or stroke.To get a more complete picture of your risk, talk to your medical provider about inflammation testing, which involves simple blood and urine tests performed in your doctor’s office. Treatments to reduce inflammation and associated risk for disease typically include lifestyle modification, such as weight loss, increasing exercise (which can be easier than you think, as we recently reported), limiting or stopping the number of cigarettes smoked (use support systems to help you!), and dietary changes. In some cases, medication may also be advised.