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The #1 Cause of "Deadly" Inflammation, Says Science

How to neutralize dangerous inflammation before it threatens your life.

Inflammation—that dreaded subject of headache and arthritis commercials—just sounds like trouble. And although inflammation is a natural response that helps our bodies heal, if it hangs around too long, it can be dangerous indeed. Chronic inflammation can even lead to health conditions that can be deadly. Read on to find out why and how—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Is Inflammation?

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Inflammation is the body's natural reaction to injury or infection. For example, when you get a cut on your finger, the area swells as the body sends blood cells and protective substances to the injury, and healing begins. But long-term, chronic inflammation within the body—the kind you can't see and may not even be aware of—can damage organs and arteries, leading to serious health complications.


What Causes Inflammation?

Obese woman
  • Obesity. Excess body fat seems to release substances throughout the body that cause inflammation. 
  • Poor Diet. Eating foods that contain added sugar, refined grains, saturated fat, trans fats, and omega-6 fatty acids can stoke inflammation.
  • Smoking and Alcohol. Both tobacco and alcohol induce inflammation throughout the body.
  • Stress and Poor Sleep. Chronic stress seems to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which can damage the heart and immune system. People who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to have inflammation than people with regular sleep schedules.

RELATED: The #1 Way to Reduce Inflammation, Says Science


What Disorders Are Caused By Inflammation?

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According to Harvard Medical School, it's believed that chronic inflammation can lead to an array of potentially serious health problems, such as:  

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Dementia and Alzheimer's disease

RELATED: Scientists Discover Surprising Possible Predictor of Dementia


The #1 Cause of Deadly Inflammation

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The deadliest condition linked to inflammation is cardiovascular disease (CVD), the #1 cause of death in the U.S. It's responsible for 1 in every 3 deaths overall. According to the American Heart Association, every year CVD—which includes heart attacks, coronary artery disease and strokes—kills more people than cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.  

"Many clinical studies have shown strong and consistent relationships between markers of inflammation such as hsCRP and cardiovascular disease prediction," say authors from the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic in a 2020 paper on chronic inflammation.

Why? "Exactly how inflammation plays a role in heart attack and stroke remains a topic of ongoing research," said Deepak Bhatt, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels."

"The body perceives this plaque as abnormal and foreign — it does not belong in a healthy blood vessel," he explains. "In response, the body tries to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood. However, under the wrong set of circumstances, that plaque may rupture, and its walled-off contents can come into contact with blood and trigger a blood clot formation."

RELATED: The #1 Cause of Visceral Fat, According to Science


How to Prevent Inflammation

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Experts say that a number of lifestyle changes can reduce inflammation, and the most effective is weight loss. According to a 2018 review of studies, losing weight can reduce the amount of inflammation in your body, and reducing the number of calories you consume daily has an anti-inflammatory effect, no matter what diet you follow. 

Other changes that can help reduce inflammation include:

  • Eating a diet that's low in added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods and simple carbs, and rich in fruits and vegetables, fiber, nuts and omega-3 fatty acids (the kind found in fatty fish like salmon)
  • Reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Reducing stress
  • Following your doctor's advice about routine testing and keeping your heart healthy, and consulting them if you have questions or concerns

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael