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Preventive Health

What is CRP?

November 2, 2011

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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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