Your body works around the clock to protect you and keep you healthy. And one of the ways it accomplishes this is via the process of inflammation – your immune system's way of neutralizing and eliminating any potential threats that may have invaded your body. While this process is designed to protect us and keep us safe, it’s also designed to maintain a delicate balance.
And if this balance gets thrown off-kilter, inflammation can rapidly turn from helpful to harmful. And this is particularly evident when inflammation strikes one of your most vital, life-sustaining organs – your heart. But what on earth triggers this harmful inflammation in your heart in the first place?
Today we are going to explore what inflammatory heart disease is, how this inflammation damages your heart, dive into some of the underlying triggers that can cause this complex condition, and most importantly – go over some steps you can take to prevent inflammation and protect your heart. Let’s start by defining exactly what inflammatory heart disease is.
What Is Inflammatory Heart Disease?
Inflammatory heart disease is exactly what it sounds like – inflammation of your heart tissue. This inflammation can affect your entire heart or different areas which can be broken down into:1,2
- Endocarditis: Inflammation of the lining in your heart chambers and the valves that control blood flow from one chamber to another
- Myocarditis: Inflammation of the muscle that makes your heart pump
- Pericarditis: Inflammation of the sac that surrounds the outside of your heart
Now inflammation in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see, inflammation is your body's natural response to some sort of threat. When your body detects an injury or foreign invader, it launches an attack – deploying an army of beneficial immune cells and chemical mediators to the site to fight infection and jumpstart the healing process.
But if inflammation becomes rampant or prolonged, this inflammatory process can quickly turn from beneficial to harmful. And the extended, deep-rooted inflammation seen in inflammatory heart conditions can lead to some serious negative consequences for your heart health
How Inflammation Damages Your Heart
When your heart becomes inflamed, it can have a domino effect – disrupting your hearts ability to perform its job and sometimes even doing permanent damage in a process that goes something like this:3,4
- Immune system activation: When your body detects the presence of a threat within your heart tissues, your immune system springs into action – releasing a cascade of proinflammatory signaling molecules known as cytokines and sending in an army of white blood cells ready to go to battle.
- Infiltration of inflammatory cells: As these chemicals and immune cells migrate to your heart tissues, inflammation levels rise – triggering a massive spike in localized inflammation within your heart.
- Increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS): The inflammatory process naturally produces a plethora of molecules known as reactive oxygen species. These unstable and highly reactive molecules strip your healthy cells of electrons – causing damage to cellular structures, proteins, lipids, and even DNA.
- Tissue damage and cell death: Prolonged inflammation can cause reactive oxygen species levels to rise rapidly and incite damage to your heart cells.
- Fibrosis and scar tissue formation: As your body works to try and heal your heart tissues, it can trigger the accumulation of fibrous tissue and scar formation – impairing the normal functioning of the heart, reducing elasticity, and impairing contractility.
- Disruption of electrical signals: Your heart relies on carefully orchestrated electrical signals to coordinate heart contractions. Prolonged inflammation can disrupt the normal electrical signals – sometimes leading to arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), which can further compromise heart function.
- Impaired blood flow: This inflammatory process can also cause the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels in your heart – reducing blood flow, impeding the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, and further aggravating inflammation.
- Autoimmune reactions: Over time your immune cells can become overworked and exhausted – sometimes leading them to go haywire and begin mistakenly attacking your own healthy heart cells. The inflammatory damage can also lead to the release of cardiac antigens which can trigger an autoimmune response against your heart cells.
- Increased risk of blood clot formation: Chronic inflammation can disrupt the delicate balance of blood clotting factors, increasing the risk of abnormal blood clot formation which can block blood vessels and lead to heart attacks or strokes.
- Progressive cardiac remodeling: Prolonged inflammation and damage to heart tissues can lead to structural changes in the heart, known as cardiac remodeling which can result in things like enlarged heart chambers, reduced pumping efficiency, and increased susceptibility to heart failure.
So what on earth could trigger this severe and prolonged inflammation that can have such grave consequences for the health of your heart?
What Causes Inflammatory Heart Disease: Exploring Underlying Triggers
Inflammatory heart disease can be triggered by a number of different underlying factors that all have one thing in common – they serve as the spark that ignites the immune response and trigger rampant inflammation throughout your heart. Some of the underlying triggers that can contribute to inflammatory heart conditions include:5,6,7
Hidden Infections and Microbial Triggers:
There is a wide range of different microbes that can potentially cause inflammatory heart disease including:
- Viruses: Such as Herpes virus, Epstein Barr virus, Hepatitis B and C, Influenza and many others
- Bacteria: Including mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacteria that causes tuberculosis), Borrelia Burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease), streptococcal species (the bacteria that are commonly associated with strep throat), among many others
- Fungi: Such as Aspergillus species (found in toxic mold), Candida species (that typically cause yeast infections), histoplasma species (typically found in bird and bat droppings), and more
- Parasites: Including Trypanosoma cruzi and babesia species – both of which can be transmitted via tick and other insect bites
These microscopic invaders sneak their way into your body where they enter your bloodstream and eventually make their way into your heart. Once they've arrived at your heart, they attach to and begin attacking your heart tissues. As your immune system attempts to neutralize these foreign invaders, your heart tissues become caught in the crossfire – with the rise in inflammation causing more harm than good.
Certain autoimmune disorders (like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease to name a few) can also lead to inflammatory heart conditions. You see, once autoimmunity has developed your immune system is already off-kilter. This makes it more likely for your immune system to mistakenly begin attacking other tissues – including your heart tissues.
Exposure to toxins can overwhelm your detoxification pathways and disrupt your immune system – allowing inflammation levels to climb and making your immune cells more reactive. These toxins can come in many forms including:
- Environmental toxins: Like those found in cleaning products, personal care products, air fresheners, and building materials
- Pollutants: Like those found in indoor and outdoor air or in tap water
- Mold exposure: Toxic mold spores can be lurking in your home or workplace
- Certain medications: Like sulphonamides, penicillins, and Digoxin
With so many potential triggers, you’re probably curious how inflammatory heart conditions are treated.
How Is Heart Inflammation Treated?
If you have an inflammatory heart condition, exactly how the inflammation in your heart is treated will depend on where it’s located and what is causing it. Initial treatment of acute inflammation often requires medications to get the inflammatory process under control and address any damage done. Medications may include things like:8
- Corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs to ramp down inflammation
- Antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungal drugs to address any underlying pathogenic infections
- Heart failure medicines to help your heart function
- Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
While medications can certainly play a critical role in addressing heart inflammation, it’s crucial to address any underlying factors that may have contributed to inflammation in order to truly heal. So, let’s zoom in on what you can do to protect yourself from the scary and sometimes life-threatening effects of an inflammatory heart condition.
Protecting Your Heart from Inflammation
While the triggers of inflammatory heart disease can be challenging to eliminate entirely, making certain lifestyle modifications can go a long way in protecting your heart from inflammation. Here are some proactive steps that I recommend:
- Adopt a heart-healthy diet: Emphasize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Incorporate foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties, such as fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, and berries. And limit inflammation-promoting foods like processed foods, sugary beverages, and excessive salt intake.
- Add in some heart-supportive supplements: Certain compounds pack a particularly powerful punch when it comes to supporting heart health. Some of these key nutrients include CoQ10 plus Omega Essentials and Taurine which help to boost energy production, protect your heart from oxidative stress and optimize blood flow. I also recommend incorporating SuperMag to promote healthy blood pressure and heart contractions as well as L-Carnitine to optimize overall cardiovascular function.
- Get moving: Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular fitness, minimize stress, and reduce inflammation – all of which are good for your heart. You don’t have to start running marathons or even going to gym – even just a brisk walk or some bodyweight exercises at home can work wonders for your health.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation and overtax your immune system. Explore ways to manage stress such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or finding a hobby that promotes relaxation and emotional well-being.
- Prioritize sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for overall health, including heart health and inflammation levels. Ideally, you should aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If getting that many hours of shut-eye seems like a distant dream, head over and check out some of my favorite all-natural sleep hacks.
- Minimize your toxic burden: Our modern world is flooded with environmental toxins – so it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. But making a few simple tweaks in your life can have a dramatic impact on your overall toxic burden (the amount of toxins within your body). Click here to learn more about minimizing your toxic burden and right here to check out some simple low-tox swaps you can make in your life.
- Incorporate some inflammation-busting supplements: Supplements like Glutathione Essentials, Resveramax, and BroccoBoost Plus can supercharge your antioxidant levels (which neutralize reactive oxygen species released from inflammation) while also helping support your natural detoxification pathways.
- Prioritize gut health: The health of your digestive tract plays a monumental role in inflammation levels as well as the health of your immune system. So it can be helpful to incorporate things like Daily Probiotics to keep your microbiome balanced and Gut Shield to keep your gut barrier strong and intact. For more ways you can support a happy healthy gut, head over and read my article How to Heal Your Gut for a Stronger Immune System.
These simple changes take a little bit of effort to implement, but their payoff for your health is exponential.
Looking for More Ways to Protect Your Heart and Create Vibrant Health?
Inflammatory heart disease is a complex and serious condition. And while we can’t control all of the factors that can potentially contribute to this concerning condition, the good news is, we are not entirely at the mercy of our environment, our genetics, or anything else. The truth is, we have an immense amount of influence on just about every aspect of our health – especially our inflammation levels.
Following the steps outlined in this article is an excellent place to start when it comes to minimizing inflammation to protect not only your heart, but every single cell in your body. And if you’re looking for more ways to preserve and uplevel your health, be sure to browse through my blog and my Youtube channel. And don’t forget to sign up for my weekly email newsletter by entering your name and email in the form at the bottom of this page. I’ve got countless resources to help you prioritize your well-being and I drop new content for you every week.
While I’ve got loads of science-backed and easy-to-implement resources available on my blog and YouTube channel, the truth is, truly vibrant health requires a mind, body, and soul approach. So if you want to tap into the next level of well-being and learn how I used this mind-body-soul approach to heal my life from the inside out, you’ve got to check out my newly released book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. I not only peel back the layers of my own journey, but I also give you a detailed roadmap to help guide you in creating your own extraordinary life – whatever that might look like for you.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about some of the underlying triggers of inflammatory heart disease? What tips and tricks do you have to prevent inflammation and support a healthy heart? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Heart Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments (clevelandclinic.org)
- Heart Inflammation – What Is Heart Inflammation? | NHLBI, NIH
- Heart Inflammation – Causes and Risk Factors | NHLBI, NIH
- Inflammation: what is it, and how does it affect the heart? – BHF
- Frontiers | Triggers of Inflammatory Heart Disease (frontiersin.org)
- The Inflammatory Heart Diseases: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Heart Inflammation – Causes and Risk Factors | NHLBI, NIH
- Heart Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments (clevelandclinic.org)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.