Heart Disease the Silent Kiwi Killer

In our previous article Heart Disease Why Should You Care we established that, according to both the NZ Ministry of Health and the NZ Heart Foundation, heart disease was the leading causes of Death in New Zealand. One New Zealander dies every 90 minutes­- these deaths are premature and preventable. Heart disease is a pathological process, it develops over years, often without warning-  someone can have a heart attack causing sudden death and without knowing they had heart disease for many years previously. As a ex-Coronary care nurse and survivor of a heart attack I know from personal experience how crucial it is to get the right advice when it comes to heart health.

In this article I will explain one of the major processes at play in order for heart disease to develop and just what you can do to prevent it.

Current Scientific and Health Professional literature points towards Inflammation as a major factor involved in the development of Ischemic Heart Disease    

           “Epidemiological and clinical studies have shown strong and consistent relationships between markers of inflammation and risk of future cardiovascular events’ – read here.  

The role of inflammation has become well established over the past decade in theories describing the atherosclerotic disease process. From a pathological viewpoint, all stages including the  initiation, growth, and complication of the atherosclerotic plaque, are considered an inflammatory response to injury. The major injurious factors that promote atherogenesis include hypertension, atherogenic lipoproteins, hyperglycemia and cigarette smoking – read here. 

While inflammation has been linked with heart disease for some time Many other major diseases that plague us—including, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s—have also been linked to chronic inflammation. So, what is inflammation?


Inflammation is how the body protects itself acutely from injury and infection. While having an inflammatory response is necessary, inflammation that persists day in and day out is not desirable. This is called Chronic Inflammation, a prolonged inflammatory response that can result in damage to coronary arteries called Atherosclerosis. This is when inflammation becomes your enemy.

Atherosclerosis is the process of cholesterol accumulation as a result long term chronic inflammation, scarring and calcification (hardening) of the coronary arteries.

This results in narrowing of the arteries which can cause chest pain also known as angina which can lead to plaque rupture and heart attack.

It is important to note that many people suffering from heart disease don’t suffer from angina, getting no warning of an impending heart attack and its subsequent common outcome, death.

This is why poor heart health resulting in heart attack is known as the “silent killer.”

Figure 1 showing Atherosclerosis of an artery. Note the presence of calcium deposits in the artery wall itself, then the collection of cholesterol causing a plaque in the artery lumen (inside space), reducing the ability for the blood to pass through the artery.

heart calcification

A rupture or displacement of this plaque can therefore result in smaller arteries getting totally blocked resulting in no blood supply to the heart muscle which causes muscle death.

What can cause inflammation in our arteries?

There are many related factors which can cause inflammation. We have known for a long time the impacts that diet has on heart health. In 2006 research published by the European Heart Journal highlights diet as a major factor in the development of inflammation in coronary heart disease. However, beyond diet alone genetic, environmental and other lifestyle factors play a huge role in the disease process over many years.

So, how do I know if am at risk of chronic inflammation and coronary heart disease?

Many of these factors are highly dependent on your own genetic makeup and gene expression. What might be an inflammatory trigger for one person may not be as much of an issue for others. To know if you are at risk of chronic inflammation and coronary heart disease comprehensive assessments are needed. It’s time to move past general advice regarding food and exercise, instead applying what we know from the latest research about the key risk factors to individualized patient care interventions. 

That is why at Cellworks we have developed the Executive Health Assessment- making use of the latest in pathology markers, genetic testing, and blood pressure pulse wave analysis. For more information on pulse wave analysis – click here.

The really good news is each of us can change our genetic expression with specific targeted interventions. This is why it’s crucial that we know what our individual risk factors are because these factors can be reduced. At Cellworks we are at the forefront of bringing the latest genetic research to you.