In order to reduce the risk of a heart attack and prevent heart disease, we've been taught that the solution is simple: lower your cholesterol. But is that really all it takes?

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and strokes, remains one of the leading causes of death and disability in the developed world despite increased understanding and numerous medical advances to try to address this plague. For decades, medical scientists have understood what contributes to most cardiovascular disease: bad cholesterol. Our arteries, that direct blood and oxygen to all of our organs, progressively develop plaque that clog them and block the vital flow of nutrients. This process, known as atherosclerosis, happens slowly, though occasionally one of these lesions can break and block the entire artery causing a sudden heart attack and stroke.

When examining these plaques, there is a fair amount of cholesterol. This prompted research that demonstrated an association between cholesterol levels in the blood, and the risk for cardiovascular disease. Because of this association, reducing elevated cholesterol levels has received a tremendous amount of attention and is responsible for some of the most widely prescribed drugs, statins such as Lipitor and Zocor. Addressing cholesterol has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but we have learned that there are other risks involved. Some people with elevated cholesterol never experience cardiovascular disease, while some with normal levels do have it; therefore, there must be other processes that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

One of those processes is inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s normal response to injury. When you sprain your ankle, your ankle becomes swollen while various substances rush to your ankle to help facilitate the ankle’s healing process. Similarly, when you come down with a virus such as a cold or flu, you often develop swollen glands as similar substances travel throughout your body. An ankle injury or flu cause a healthy acute inflammatory response. The problem is when inflammation persists for a long period of time, it becomes chronic. For example, inflammatory substances can travel to areas of damage in blood vessels and increase the clogging; in addition, while inflammation is often helpful when areas are exposed to persistent inflammation, those areas can get damaged themselves. In other words, damage can cause inflammation, and inflammation can cause damage.

The challenge is like having high cholesterol, often inflammation cannot be felt. So how do you know if you have elevated levels of inflammation throughout your body? There are several tests for inflammation, with one of the most popular being Hs-crp, or high-sensitivity c-reactive protein. Elevated Hs-crp, and other inflammatory markers, have been associated with risks for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, and even cancer. Fortunately, if you do have elevated inflammation levels, there are steps you can take to address it. There are many reversible causes of inflammation, including Vitamin D deficiency, eliminating certain foods, etc.

If you want to test for inflammation and know your Hs-crp levels, EverlyWell allows you to order online an inflammation test you can perform at home while also checking your Vitamin D levels. If levels are elevated and you are concerned it might relate to certain foods, EverlyWell also provides a food sensitivity test. Taking control of your health has never been so convenient!