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September 30, 2007,  last updated December 24, 2015
By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses and other members of our Editorial Board.]

What do heart disease and a paper cut have in common?  
The answer is that both are injuries and, surprisingly, the
body’s response to each of these injuries is fundamentally
the same.  Both injuries create inflammation.

Almost everyone knows what inflammation looks like when
it occurs on the skin--- you get a cut, it gets infected, the
skin becomes swollen with pus. Or you ram your knee into
the end of the coffee table, and the knee swells up. How
does inflammation connect to diseases such as heart
disease, diabetes and stroke?

Inside the body, when certain injuries occur, the same
process of inflammation occurs.  

Your arteries, for example, become inflamed if they are

How are they injured? Arteries can become “cut”, injured
in fact, when they are nicked. Injuries to arteries occur
when jagged molecules called “free radicals” ram into
them, much like out of control race cars crashing against
the walls of a speedway.  

Reduce the number of free radicals, reduce injury.  It turns
out that free radicals are released whenever we eat foods
high in unsaturated fat or sugar. Eat a fried chicken dinner
cooked in lard or butter, and your arteries literally spasm
for hours.  Or eat a piece of cheesecake and the arteries
spasm from the beating they take from the bombardment
of free radicals against their walls. By the way, free
radicals are also the elements which age you, in the same
way as the free radicals in air age an apple, turning it

Once nicked, the body’s response is to patch up the nicks
using cholesterol, the body’s equivalent of spackling
compound.  There are two types of spackle. Good spackle
is soft and smooth—that is the so-called good cholesterol,
HDL.   Bad spackle is small, and rough—the so-called bad
cholesterol, LDL.   If your blood has enough good spackle
in it, when the arteries are cut, the chances are the body
will send good spackle.  If the spackle is smooth, the cut is
repaired smoothly. If the spackle is rough, the cut is not
repaired smoothly and jagged edges ---plaque---form. As
a result, when the river of blood flows past the repair, part
of the jagged messy plaque job can break off.  The plaque
can travel down the river of blood to your heart and cause
an attack. Or it can travel to your brain and cause a stroke.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that you can reduce or even eliminate
free radicals with nutrition and exercise.  Vegetables,
especially the colorful green, red and yellow ones, are
some of the most effective foods that neutralize free
radicals.  Also,
omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such
as salmon and sardines and nuts like walnuts can
inflammation in the body.  These foods lower inflammation
throughout the body, wherever it occurs.

The anti-inflammatory action of vegetables and fish may be
one reason studies have found that eating salmon and oily
fish retards the progression of dementia, heart disease and
may even aid the body in fighting cancer.

Vitamins That Scavenge Free Radicals

Certain vitamins scavenge free radicals in our bodies,
reducing inflammation.  Vitamins A, E and C are especially
potent anti-inflammatory scavengers. For example, the
latest thinking about acne is that it is started when
inflammation attacks, releasing a cascade of chemicals
which, combined with the presence of bacteria in the skin,
causes acne.

A 2010 study lead by Dr. Whitney Bowe and Alan Logan of
State University of New York Downstate Medical Center
discovered that, if you look at the blood profiles of people
with severe acne, you will find that they have 52% less
Vitamin A and 31% less Vitamin E than people who are

Vitamin C is responsible for scavenging the free radicals in
the inner walls of arteries called the endothelium,
according to a 2011 study from Linus Pauling Institute,
Oregon State University.  

Vitamin C triggers the release of  endothelial nitric oxide
synthase (eNOS). It does this by recycling a compound
called "eNOS cofactor",  or "tetrahydrobiopterin".  This
compound is important to maintaining the elasticity of your
arteries and to regulating blood pressure.


To measure the amount of inflammation you have inside
your body, ask your doctor for what is called a "C-reactive
protein" test. If you are healthy, generally no C-reactive
protein at all should show up in your blood tests.

Unless you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, the
American Heart Association currently does not recommend
screening for inflammation using the C-reactive protein
test. If you are, you should ask your doctor to run a
special C-reactive test called a "hs-CRP" test.

Here is a
link to the current guidelines of the American
Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control for
when you should get a C-reactive protein test.

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Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables lowers the
inflammation in your body.