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Will Inflammation Testing Save Lives?

This Year’s TEDMED Takes On Important Health Questions

This month in Washington D.C., the greatest minds in health and medicine came together to address some of the biggest challenges facing our world. It was none other than the annual TEDMED conference that brought them to the Kennedy Center on April 10-13. If this gathering of visionaries sounds familiar, it’s because it was inspired by the original TED, the popular gathering of forward-thinkers in the world of technology, entertainment, and design. True to its legacy, this med-leaning evolution of TED broke new ground in the field of medical research and innovation.

At this year’s event, the world’s big thinkers shared cutting edge ideas that may affect all of us in the coming years. For three absorbing days, attendees tried on aging suits, saw artificial hearts, had discussions about the role of nutrition in cancer treatment, and saw presentations about everything from stress to sleep. But what’s most exciting about this gathering of minds is that some of the information presented at TEDMED may some day solve problems for the average person, and in many cases, save lives. One such idea is helping to identify the risk of heart disease, the leading killer in the U.S., by looking closely at inflammation.

Testing the Risk for Heart Disease

One unavoidable takeaway at TEDMED, according to some attendees, was the difficulties faced by the American medical system. But at the same time, innovations that can have a positive impact on the future of medicine were present in abundance. One example was the presentation by the Cleveland HeartLab (CHL) which addressed a major health challenge head-on by showing how they could track the risk of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease continues to confound our population – often, those who are at risk know only when a major heart event takes them by surprise. In fact, approximately 50% of patients who have a heart attack or stroke have normal levels of cholesterol, according to CHL, and cholesterol levels have been one of the most reliable indicators for such events. However, CHL maintains that it is the degree of inflammation in one’s arteries that is the better predictor, which is why they took their inflammation testing, or “it” on the road at TEDMED. They offered inflammatory testing to any TEDMED delegate who wanted it, and many took advantage of the screening.

The participants who took part in this voluntary inflammation testing were educated about how  “it” can improve assessment of their cardiovascular health. “It” goes beyond traditional blood tests and provides an inflammation panel (the “it” test screened not only for C-reactive protein but for myeloperoxidase and lipid levels) that determines the degree that someone is at risk of a cardiovascular event, according to CHL. The results? Approximately 40% of the 335 TEDMED delegates had elevated cardiovascular disease risk with 10% having a risk for vascular thrombosis.

The Inflammation Problem 

Inflammation has repercussions that extend to many diseases, and heart disease is one. For many of us, the idea of inflammation brings to mind redness, swelling or infection as a result of injury to the skin or the surface of the body. But the lower grade, chronic inflammation that occurs inside the body is both dangerous and silent, and is linked to diseases of aging like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and arthritis.

According to WBA Nutrition Advisor and Spokesperson, Susan Davis, MS, RD, inflammation damages nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims and contributes to the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitates their transformation into cancer without showing any symptoms at all. “Protection from inflammation by compounds in the diet is very complex and not well understood,” said Davis. “Some of the mechanisms that have been identified include interfering with the development of inflammatory compounds at the genetic level.” Diet has shown exciting potential as well. Studies into blueberries for example, have shown that the compounds may have an effect on deterring inflammation in the body. They contain flavonoids such as anthocyanins, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins that have been shown to contribute to protective, anti-inflammatory effects.

Dietary Keys to Anti-Inflammation

Today, we know that the typical western diet, high in refined carbohydrates, fats, sugars and calories contributes to inflammation. But a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega 3 fatty acids is anti-inflammatory, and vitamins, minerals, as well as plant compounds have both antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Simple steps to create an “anti-inflammatory” diet can help make major gains in health and longevity. Here’s how:

Through Variety. Eat a wide variety of foods, and eat across the color spectrum. When you include deeply colored fruits and vegetables, you are getting the benefits of antioxidants that combat inflammation – they are present in the skins of blueberries, leafy greens, and other colorful foods.

By Eating Fresh and Fresh-Frozen. Eat plenty of real, fresh food or foods frozen at their peak. The key to avoiding processed foods is to turn to the produce aisle, or equally as nutritious, the freezer section of the grocery store where fruits and vegetables have all the advantages of those at the farmer’s market.

By Filling Your Plate with Fruits and Vegetables. Eat them with every meal, and get the recommended servings. They are your best defense against disease and the effects of aging.

Learn more by watching the video from Susan Davis about the Anti-Inflammation Diet.

What are the 20 Greatest Challenges Facing Health and Medicine Today? 

According to TEDMED, the mission of the Great Challenges Program is not to “solve” America’s most confounding health and wellness problems but to provide “a comprehensive view, incorporating thoughtful perspectives from every discipline and from all sectors of society.” They have identified the most pressing issues facing today’s medical community, and they include Causes of Sleep Deprivation, Preparing for Dementia, and Eliminating Medical Errors, just to name a few. Want to know what the others are? Find out at TEDMED Challenges.

Interested in testing for inflammation? Learn more about “it”.

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