A lot has been written in the media recently about the role of inflammation in a host of common diseases. Of particular interest is the crucial piece of the puzzle inflammation plays in heart health.

Many people believe heart attacks are completely random, unless the individual who suffers the heart attack had an obvious lifestyle issue, such as being morbidly obese, smoking cigarettes regularly, etc. We might look at this person and think, “That guy is a heart attack waiting to happen.” However, we are all familiar with someone who has suffered a heart attack, but appeared – at least on the outside – to be relatively healthy.

Genetics issues aside, it is quite possible for someone to suffer from heart disease without “looking like” he or she is unhealthy. This person may go to the gym, be a regular runner and have a healthy body weight.

How does this happen?

Scientists are taking a hard look at inflammation as the cause. One study stated is quite simply, “Chronic inflammation is known to be associated with increased episodes of heart attacks.” Heart disease is not the only condition impacted by inflammation. Studies are finding an association with diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

If inflammation is so rampant and so important to control, what can you do about it? One positive action to emerge from the research tells us we can control inflammation much more than we thought we could. One primary method is through nutrition.

The typical American diet is considered ‘pro-inflammatory’. With an abundance of grain-fed red meat, commercially baked breads and desserts as well as processed sugars we see an increase in the chemicals which cause inflammation.

To counter all this, here is a list of foods shown to reduce inflammation and where you can find them.

Oregano – a very common spice
Curcumin – an ingredient in turmeric which is found in curry
Capsaicin – The chemical that make peppers hot. Therefore, chilies are a great source
Bromelain – an enzyme found in pineapples
Omega 3 Fish Oil – (no real surprise here) found in cold-water fish such as salmon

Other relatively common spices or foods shown to have anti-inflammatory properties are: basil, cinnamon, ginger, rosemary, garlic powder, black pepper, sweet potatoes, resveratrol (found in grapes and red wine).

Incorporating these natural inflammation fighters into your diet while decreasing processed carbo-hydrate consumption can have powerful health benefits.

In addition, exercise plays a role as well. While exercise can provoke short-term inflammation in the muscles, over the long haul exercise inhibits inflammation by controlling the ‘bad boys’ of inflammation – chemicals known as cytokines.

The real challenge lies in finding out if you suffer from chronic inflammation.

If you twist your ankle badly, the inflammation around the injury is pretty clear; swelling, redness and an increase in heat around the joint along with pain. However, inflammation within our bodies many not show any symptoms whatsoever.

How can your doctor help? The next time you take a trip to your doctor for a physical, make sure the blood work includes a test for C-Reactive Protein (CRP) or Cross-reactive Protein levels. Very high levels of CRP – over 10mg/L – can an impaired immune response of the presence of an inflammatory disease, according to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a fairly common test and may be already part of your doctor’s regular tests.

Imagine running a low-grade fever constantly.  Not enough to keep you from going to work and you may not be conscious of it throughout your day…but it’s there all the time.  This is one way to think of chronic inflammation.

Controlling this common condition may have more far-reaching benefits than we know.