This week I’ve learned a new word, “inflammaging.” Researchers at the University of California use it in a report that claims chronic inflammation has a profound effect on how we age, and what diseases we develop.

No one can go through life without experiencing the red, warm sensation of an injury or infection. But none see the immune cells rushing to the site to release a variety of chemicals to combat it. Without this immune response we would die.

But sometimes there’s a “Dr. Jekyll reaction” resulting in chronic inflammation. This negative response was exposed during research of several diseases from Type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease to auto immune problems.

In 2013 the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported a study involving 3,000 British civil servants. It showed that chronic inflammation appeared to decrease the chance of successful aging by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

But the most interesting linkage of inflammation is the association of chronic inflammation with cardiovascular disease and heart attack.  

What actually triggers an inflamed reaction?  Researchers believe bacterial and viral infections are responsible for initiating the inflammatory process. Over a period of years this causes a buildup of cholesterol and fatty products resulting in atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and the risk of heart attack.      

Currently there’s no direct way to measure chronic inflammation. But a blood test, called the C-reactive protein (CRP) test, shows CRP is produced by the liver in response to inflammation. And elevated levels of CRP have been linked to cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

So what can you do to decrease CRP and chronic inflammation? Researchers suggest that a daily 81 milligram Aspirin, which has been available for over a hundred years and used to treat so many problems, has found another use in decreasing CRP. And although I’ve often criticized the use of cholesterol-lowering-drugs in treating heart disease, researchers claim they too play an important role in lowering CRP. In moderation, chocolate, wine and tea also have anti-inflammatory effects.

Unfortunately, drugs have side-effects. For instance, taking a baby Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs daily kills about 20,000 North Americans every year due to gastrointestinal bleeding. Moreover, the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLDs) may have unintended consequences such as kidney, liver or muscle damage and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cataracts and emotional troubles. These potential troubles should be discussed with your doctor.

 Here is the real challenge for patients. Researchers say that the steps used to decrease the risk of heart attack also help to lower CRP. This means an improved lifestyle such as more exercise, eating an anti-inflammatory diet including fatty fish, fruits and vegetables, losing weight and eliminating smoking, can be helpful.

The problem is that many North Americans have a bad track record of losing weight and changing dietary habits. Look at the number of North Americans who are still smoking!

So although I’ve learned a new word this week, I’ve known for years that chronic inflammation is not good for you and can affect the heart, kidneys and other part of the body. And that it’s associated with arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

In spite of what we know about heart disease, it still remains the number one killer. Many readers know that, after a heart attack 20 years ago, I’ve taken high doses of vitamin C and lysine which I believe have kept me alive. Yet researchers never mention the work of Dr. Sydney Bush, who proved high doses of vitamin C can reverse narrowed coronary arteries.

See the web site www.docgiff.com that shows dramatic changes in arteries after taking high doses (4,000-6,000 milligrams) of vitamin C and lysine daily. Lysine, a natural amino acid, adds strength to arteries making them less likely to rupture, causing a stroke.

Medi-C Plus and other high dose brands of vitamin are available at health food stores in powder or capsule form. They are safe, less expensive, and I believe more effective than cholesterol-lowering drugs. But always consult your own doctor for his or her advice. It’s been aptly said that, “He who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

Dr. Ken Walker (Gifford-Jones) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and The Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in gynecology at Harvard. He has also been a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon and hotel doctor. See www.docgiff.com for past columns. For comments: info@docgiff.com.