You probably know your blood pressure, and whether your cholesterol is high, normal or low.  But what about your CRP?  Short for C-Reactive Protein, CRP is an indicator of inflammation within the body—a condition that can contribute to a host of serious ills.  Over time, chronic inflammation triggers a cascade of chemicals and processes that can lead to blood clots and accelerate the build-up of plaque in the arteries.   According to the American Heart Association, people with high CRP are twice as likely to suffer cardiac arrest as those with low levels.  This makes CRP the most important cardiovascular risk factor we have for men and women over age 50—more indicative that cholesterol, blood pressure, age, family history, and whether you smoke. 

Because CRP testing is relatively new, it’s not yet standard procedure at most doctors’ offices.  Ask for the blood test at your next physical.  And don’t do it just for your heart.  Elevated levels are linked to stroke, diabetes, colon cancer, arthritis, poor brain function and Alzheimer’s.  Knowing your CRP, and bringing it down if it’s high, is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Request the hs-CRP test (the most sensitive), and have it done when you’re feeling well.  Here is how the numbers stack up:

  • Below 1 milligram per liter (mg/L): Low risk.
  • 1-3 mg/L:  Average risk.  The average American tests between 1-2 mg/L.
  • 3 mg/L and above:  High risk.  About 25% of Americans fall into this category.
  • 10 mg/L: Experts consider this number abnormally high.  It can result from a passing infection (such as the flu).  Wait 6 weeks and retest.

What are the risk factors?

  • You are overweight: Some fat cells, especially abdominal fat, can trigger the production of CRP.  According to research, 50% of overweight individuals and 75% of obese people have elevated CRP.
  • You eat refined carbohydrates: Women who consume high-glycemic carbs, the kind that the body most rapidly breaks down, have the highest levels of CRP.   Concentrated sweets raise insulin levels, and this can have a profound inflammatory effect.  Insulin resistance and diabetes also raise CRP levels.
  • You don’t sleep enough: Whether it’s self-imposed or caused by a sleep disorder, a lack of sleep leads to the release of both cortisol and CRP.  Chronic stress can do the same thing.
  • You get frequent infections: A repeated inflammatory response of any kind of bug—from bronchitis and Lyme disease to bladder and sinus infections—can elevate your CRP.
  • You don’t floss:  Bacteria between your teeth can infect your gums, allowing more bacteria to enter your bloodstream, where they can cause inflammation of the arteries.  This is why severe gum disease can nearly double your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • You have chronic allergies: Allergens prompt the immune system to develop antibodies, which cause tissue cells to release chemicals (including histamine) that fuel the inflammatory response. 
  • You are on the pill: The hormones in oral contraceptives can stimulate the liver to produce CRP.  CRP levels can be twice as high in women taking the pill.

How to Lower your Levels

  • Get tested.  You should start checking your CRP in your 30’s so you have a baseline.
  • Stick to a Mediterranean Diet.  Adherence to a diet rich in oil, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables lowered CRP levels by an average of 20%.  To get started, snack on walnuts between meals, and try to consume three portions per week of fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna.
  • Increase your fiber intake.  Individuals who consume fiber-rich diets were 63% less likely to have high CRP that people whose diets were fiber-poor.  A simple trick for increasing your fiber intake is leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables.  Or add a teaspoon of ground chia seeds to a glass of water or juice in the morning (refrigerate chia seeds once they’ve been ground).
  • Enjoy some dark chocolate.  Moderate dark chocolate consumption is associated with significantly lower levels of CRP.  Eat no more than about one-fifth of an artisanal bar twice per week.  And make sure the chocolate is at least 70% cocoa.
Source: Nancy Kalish