Add as bookmark

Inflammation, Heart Disease and Marine Oil

by Carl D Thompson(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 170 - May 2010

Inflammation is the silent killer of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year – and most of its victims have no idea how dangerous it is. Everyone has at some time during their lives had a part of their body that was visibly inflamed due to things such as an infected cut. What most people do not realize is that the conventional medical wisdom that once viewed heart disease as a plumbing problem now sees it as an inflammatory disorder.

New Zealand Bay Green Lipped Mussels
New Zealand Bay Green Lipped Mussels

Heart specialists were among the first to recognize the role inflammation played in cardiovascular disease. For generations, doctors had been educated to look upon heart disease as a plumbing problem. The theory was that during the course of a person's life, fatty deposits would build up inside major blood vessels until they became so blocked that blood supply to a part of the heart was cut off. This was called a heart attack. A complex molecule called LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, provided the raw material for the deposits. Doctors drew the obvious conclusion that anyone who had a high level of LDL cholesterol had a greater risk of heart disease.

The problem with that view was that about half the people who had heart attacks did not have an elevated level of LDL cholesterol. As imaging technology improved, doctors found that the most dangerous plaques were not necessarily large enough to be considered life threatening. Something else was at work. Something was causing these plaque deposits to burst and create large clots that cut off blood supply to the heart.

Inflammation – Precursor to Heart Disease

In the 1990s, Dr Paul Ridker a Cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston MA became convinced that an inflammatory response was causing the plaque to burst and block blood vessels. To test his theory, Dr Ridker looked for one of the body's markers of chronic inflammation. He chose C-reactive protein (CRP), which is produced by the liver in response to a signal of inflammation. During an acute illness, such as a bacterial infection, the level of CRP increases from 10mg/L to 1,000mg/L. By 1997, Dr Ridker and his colleagues had shown that apparently healthy men who had the highest CRP levels were three times more likely to experience a heart attack, as compared with men who had low levels of CRP in their blood.

Doctors are still speculating about the mechanism that causes a plaque deposit to burst. There is, however, one theory that has more adherents than most. The theory is that as the level of LDL increases in the blood, some of it seeps into the lining of the coronary arteries. Macrophages are alerted to the presence of an invader and enter the tissue to repel the foreign material. If the cytokine signals increase the inflammation process instead of winding it back, the plaque will become unstable. This causes the plaque deposit to burst and block a blood vessel.

Whatever may be the full truth of the bodily processes involved, there is overwhelming evidence that inflammation plays a major part in heart disease. The question is, what can we do about it?

Addressing Inflammation through Diet

According to figures compiled by the US government, about 500,000 Americans die every year as a result of heart disease. Despite this death toll, people seem to cruise through life without applying a lot of thought to maintaining or restoring the health of their bodies – until some sort of crisis forces them to pay attention. For a sizeable number of such people, the crisis comes in the form of a fatal first heart attack. Those who survive their first heart attack, or those who have been fortunate enough to recognize the warning signs of a looming problem, have to consider what to do about their situation.

Doctors agree that the first things people need to do are change their lifestyle and diet. Okay, so you have resolved to visit your doctor for a heart check, to quit smoking, manage your stress, begin a supervised exercise program, and change your diet to steamed or raw vegetables, fish and lean meat, and cut out trans fats such as margarine. Respected medical author and Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of California Dr Georges Halpern MD PhD has described trans fats as "a heart attack in a box". The problem is, almost all manufactured food items contain some form of trans fats. Margarine is the most obvious, but even the seemingly innocent factory bakery cookie is usually loaded with trans fats. So, what else can you do to halt inflammation?

Marine Oil as an Anti-Inflammatory

Enter marine oils. You can begin to introduce marine oil to both lower your LDL cholesterol level and help your body to get its inflammatory responses back to normal. An abundance of published research shows that marine oils offer these benefits.[1] To get enough marine oil to make a meaningful difference would require you to adopt the diet of the Inuit or traditional Japanese fishermen, whose low heart disease rates attracted the attention of medical researchers. This led to the discovery of the health benefits of marine oils. If, however, eating several pounds per day of oily fish such as salmon or tuna is not one of your fondest aspirations, there are alternatives.

Mussels opened up

An effective and easy way to introduce marine oil into your diet is the New Zealand green-lipped mussel. First, a word of warning. The therapeutic benefits of this mussel oil are destroyed by exposure to the atmosphere and heat. To date, there is only one patented process for the extraction of the oil in a form that maintains its therapeutic benefits. The product that is the result of this process is called Lyprinol. In his book, The Inflammation Revolution (Square One Publishers, ISBN 0-7570-0283-8), Professor Georges Halpern examines research by various doctors comparing the Lyprinol with Max-EPA, other green-lipped mussel products, evening primrose oil, salmon oil and flax seed oil.

Research has also shown that as an anti-inflammatory, Lyprinol was as effective as prescription synthetic pharmaceuticals, but did not have any of the side effects or potential for adverse interactions with other drugs. A great deal of this research was done by Dr Michael Whitehouse of Brisbane, Australia. The published journal articles can be found online by putting the words "Lyprinol clinical trial Whitehouse" into a search engine. For those who are so inclined, there's a lot to read.

Another important feature of the mussel oil detailed by Professor Halpern in his book is that unlike fish oil, it does not inhibit blood platelet function, so does not cause bleeding.

By modulating the body's inflammation response, the New Zealand green-lipped mussel oil has been shown to inhibit the eruptions of plaque that lead to heart attacks; that's good news for health conscious people.


1. Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD; William S. Harris, PhD; Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH, for the Nutrition Committee. Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation 106: 2747-67. 2002. [119 References]


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Carl D Thompson

Carl D Thompson is a journalist who has been reporting on health and medical issues around the world for the past 33 years. He has a special interest in low-cost natural alternatives to expensive patented synthetic drugs, especially when published science shows these to be both efficacious and safer than synthetics. His work has appeared widely in both consumer and professional health trade publications internationally. His new e-book, Inflammation: A Closer Look at What Drug Companies Do Not Want You to Know, can be downloaded for free at

top of the page