Harvard Heart Letter

Simple changes in diet can protect you against friendly fire

What you eat can fuel or cool inflammation, a key driver of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Inflammation is an essential part of the body's healing system. Without it, injuries would fester and simple infections could be deadly. Too much of a good thing, though, is downright dangerous. Chronic low-grade inflammation is intimately involved in all stages of atherosclerosis, the process that leads to cholesterol-clogged arteries. This means that inflammation sets the stage for heart attacks, most strokes, peripheral artery disease, and even vascular dementia, a common cause of memory loss. Think of it as friendly fire "" yourself attacking yourself.

Inflammation doesn't happen on its own. It is the body's response to a host of modern irritations that our Stone Age genes haven't quite caught up to. The main ones are smoking, lack of exercise, high-fat and high-calorie meals, and highly processed foods.

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