All roads of chronic disease lead to inflammation. Chronic, low-grade inflammation, not acute inflammation, is involved with the development of many complex medical problems, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. Acute inflammation is a normal physiological response to infection and injury in the body; inflammation is characterized by swelling, redness, heat, and pain all of which are caused by vasodilation, increased blood flow, and immune cells flooding the area in response to tissue damage or an infection. Acute inflammation lasts anywhere from minutes to hours to a few days at the most. However, when inflammation lasts for several days to years, the normal process becomes abnormal. Just think about what happens during an inflammatory response—specialized cells that neutralize and engulf debris and microorganisms migrate into an area of damaged tissue; dilated blood vessels bring heat, swelling, and redness to the area too. After months and years of this type of response damage in the tissues ensue.
What causes chronic inflammation? Well a lot of the toxins in our environment introduce poisons into our body, and those toxins trigger an inflammatory response. Over time, the inflammation becomes chronic and leads to disease. Our diet is another way in which chronic inflammation develops. Foods such as refined grains, sugar, and flour and fast food activate proinflammatory molecules in the body, which cause disease. Cardiovascular disease is a classic example of how chronic inflammation triggers disease in the body. Part of the paradigm of inflammation is increased blood flow. In chronic inflammation, continued vasodilation causes wear and tear to the blood vessel’s inner lining, which is called the endothelium. A loss of integrity in the endothelial layer disrupts many of the normal functions of this vascular layer and results in the following problems:
- Loss of clotting ability
- Impaired immune response
- Impair vascular dilation or constriction
Endothelial dysfunction plays a significant role in cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke because arteries lose the ability to dilate fully. Both a heart attack and a stroke occur because adequate blood is not supplied to the heart or brain, respectively. During a stroke, the arteries supplying a part of the brain are partially or completely blocked, which prevents that area of the brain from receiving oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes of a stroke that area of the brain begins to die. So it’s important to prevent strokes from happening in the first place.
There are many medical recommendations to prevent the risk of a cardiovascular event. A healthy diet and adequate physical activity are two important ways to ensure cardiovascular health. In particular, a meta-analysis published in Neurology concluded that animal protein helps to reduce the risk of stroke. The meta-analysis analyzed the diet and health of over 254,000 study participants who were included in 7 prospective studies and were followed for 14 years. The study adjusted for confounding variables such as elevated cholesterol levels and smoking. The consumption of animal protein resulted in a greater reduction than vegetable protein for stroke risk, which was 29% and 12%, respectively.
While the meta-analysis provides great insights into the importance of protein for health, it’s crucial to recognize that all protein sources—albeit a necessary macronutrient—are not created equally. Animal protein may provide greater protection against strokes; however, it also contains a lot of saturated fat too, which isn’t good for heart health. When it comes to animal food choices, choose lean animal protein like fish. Fish such as salmon, cod, and mackerel not only provide a good source of protein but also offer omega-3 fats, which is a good anti-inflammatory and pro-heart health nutrient. Free-range chickens are also a good source of animal protein, and they also contain healthy fats like omega-3 too. Opt for grass-fed chicken, beef, pork, and turkey because they are leaner meats, which contain less fat and healthy nutrients. And don’t make the mistake of eating less vegetables because the provide protein, contain less saturated fat, and pack various bioactive compounds that fight free radical damage and turn off cancer promoter genes. Eat a wide range of vegetables for ample coverage that protects against strokes and other health conditions.