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What is CRP?

Is CRP a test you should be getting done? Chances are, you’ve never even heard of it. (If you have: bonus points to you!) CRP stands for C-Reactive Protein, and it’s a marker for inflammation. But we also use it as a screening test for heart disease risk. 

At this point you might be asking: what does inflammation have to do with heart disease, exactly?

A lot, as we’re starting to learn.

How inflammation contributes to heart disease

Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases. When inflammation gets into otherwise healthy tissues it can inflict long-term damage, and it poses a particular problem for the heart. Inflammation triggers a series of processes and chemical reactions that encourages plaque buildup in the arteries–narrowing those vessels and making blood clots more likely. This is the root of coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association says that people with high CRP are twice as likely to have cardiac arrest than people with low CRP. Which makes it a very important risk factor. But, CRP is a relatively new test, and not exactly standard practice–yet.

The kicker is that CRP is a non-specific marker of inflammation, meaning, it doesn’t tell us where the inflammation is within your body. So this is not a diagnostic test. Not like a pregnancy test, where you get a yes or a no. It gives us an idea about the degree of inflammation you’ve got going on.

Should You Get Your CRP Tested?

Is this test for everyone? No. If you already have known cardiac disease, or have other major risk factors anyway, the result of a CRP test is probably not going to significantly change your treatment. You should already be working on your modifiable risk factors (like quitting smoking and eating healthfully). A CRP test doesn’t replace other ways of monitoring heart disease risk, like checking blood pressure and cholesterol. But if you have intermediate risk, it could be a very useful screening test. Essentially, it comes down to individual factors, and a conversation with your family physician.

How to Lower Your CRP

If you get the test, and have an elevated CRP, what should you do to lower it?

  • Start by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. The Mediterranean diet is my favorite variation.
  • Take Omega-3 supplements. Many studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids, including a reduction in CRP.
  • Take Vitamin C. A study at UC Berkeley found that patients with elevated CRP who supplemented with 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily lowered their CRP by an average of 25%. 
  • Include more fiber in your diet. A 2006 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people with a fiber-rich diet were less likely (by 63%) to have an elevated CRP than people with poor fiber intake.
  • My personal fave: eat a little dark chocolate. A 2008 study in Italy showed an association between moderate dark chocolate intake and significantly lower levels of CRP.

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How To Lose That Cursed Belly Fat

Women used to complain about their hips and thighs. Now, it seems, it’s all about belly fat. I suppose this could be my imagination since I have, in recent years, joined the post-baby ranks…and now share this particular preoccupation.

Or maybe it’s the attention paid to apple vs pear-shaped physiques. Which is an important distinction, actually. An apple silhouette (with fat accumulated around the belly) is more dangerous than a pear shape. Years of research have shown an association between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Of course there’s a recent study that threatens to debunk years of accepted wisdom re fat distribution in the abdomen vs hips/thighs. But this is just one study, and the jury is still out.

Regardless–whether you want to lose that spare tire for aesthetics or for health–it’s a good goal.

So, what to do?

1. Watch out for trans fat. Saturated fat, in general, is not your friend if you want a nice lean tummy, but trans fats are particularly evil. A study at Wake Forest University showed that trans fat increased the amount of fat stored around the belly…and even worse: it redistributes fat from other parts of your body to the abdomen. Now that is just not nice.

2. Drink green tea. A recent study showed that consumption of green tea enhances exercise-induced abdominal fat loss. Okay, seriously. Is there anything green tea doesn’t help with?

3. Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol seems to be a particularly bad thing for belly fat. One theory: when you drink, your liver is too busy burning off the alcohol to metabolize fat properly. But worse, is this: alcohol can affect the hormones that regulate your satiety center. In other words, it can make you feel hungrier. And you know what that leads to, don’t you?

4. Manage your stress. Chronic, unrelenting stress does a lot of bad things to our bodies and minds. Not the least of which is produce a steady stream of cortisol. And, unfortunately, cortisol stimulates our bodies to accumulate fat around our abdomens. Great. As if being stressed isn’t bad enough. Now you’re stressed…and chubby. Check here for tips on stress management. And here. And, um, here.

5. Gobble blueberries. Blueberries have been shown in lab studies to diminish abdominal fat. Don’t get too excited, yet, though–the study was only done on rats. Still, it may prove applicable to the rest of us. Besides, blueberries have other benefits too.

6. Fiber, fiber, fiber. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet rich in whole grains helped rid obese patients of extra belly fat. So that’s a good thing. But there’s another benefit to fiber, when it comes to achieving a nice flat belly. And I’m not going to be cute about this one. If you’re constipated, it’s hard to have a truly flat abdomen. No, this isn’t belly fat, per se, but you’ll still have that bloated roundness that’s not exactly pretty (or comfortable!). To get a trimmer tummy you need a combo of: less body fat, no constipation/bloating, and toned muscles…which brings me to…

7. Exercise. You knew I was going to get to this one, right? Yes, exercise will definitely help you get a flat tummy. Best approach: get a combo of cardio (to burn fat) and core strengthening to tone those muscles. My current fave? Yoga plank pose.

8. What about diet soda? It seems logical to cut calories by drinking diet soda. But the evidence is conflicting. Some recent studies have shown that diet soda can actually increase weight gain. Read this if you’re curious why this might be.

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. It is not a substitute for seeking medical advice or counseling. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should seek medical attention before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program described on this website.