Inflammation is one of the major causes of many degenerative diseases, including heart disease. To further complicate things, other diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease are all more likely when inflammation is increased. Of great importance to heart disease sufferers is that the risk of heart attack can more than double, regardless of cholesterol levels, when inflammation is high.
In addition to measuring your cholesterol, your doctor may have ordered a test to measure the level of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in your blood. You may have also seen this test labeled as “hsCRP” or High-Sensitivity CRP. CRP has emerged as a practical measure of low-grade, hidden inflammation. This new “high-sensitivity” method is capable of measuring elevated inflammation at far lower levels and therefore earlier than previous CRP tests.
What is CRP?
CRP is a protein made by the liver in response to any inflammatory process in the body, such as an infection or arthritis. In general, the greater the inflammation, the higher your CRP will be. However, there may be other sources of inflammation, things not quite so obvious as, say, pneumonia or an abscess, lurking within your body. You may feel just fine, but sources of low-grade inflammation may be slowly causing big problems that won’t become obvious until years later.
How high is too high?
Conditions or diseases like infected wounds or even a case of the flu can cause CRP to skyrocket. Blood levels over 10 mg/l generally indicate some distinct inflammation process is going on that is unrelated to heart disease. It is the low-grade levels below 10 mg/l that are worrisome.
A CRP level greater than 0.5 mg/l can be a signal that low-grade inflammation may be contributing to coronary artery disease. Even more dangerous is the fact that inflammation is also regarded as a trigger for heart attack. Dr. Paul Ridker of Harvard University, one of the world’s leading authorities on CRP, demonstrated that elevated CRP levels of about 3 mg/l or more increase heart attack risk 3-fold, even when LDL cholesterol is low.
How to reduce your CRP
Drugs such as statins and certain antibiotics have been shown to lower CRP levels. One study even showed that statins can reduce heart attacks in the presence of elevated CRP. However, many health-conscious people try to avoid the need for additional prescription drugs. So, what can you do to lower inflammation and CRP without drugs?
Fortunately, there are many lifestyle modifications and natural remedies that can reduce low-grade inflammation and CRP or, at a minimum, substantially reduce the need for drugs.
Be certain to discuss the following options with your healthcare providers if you are diagnosed with high CRP.
1. Weight loss. Like many other health conditions, weight loss is among the most powerful ways to reduce CRP. Achieving a body mass index (BMI) between 20 to 25 (a BMI under 20 is considered too low) can significantly lower CRP.
2. Exercise. You guessed it. Another benefit of exercise of almost any kind leads to a modest reduction in inflammation and CRP. Once again, the more you do, the better the effect.
3. Avoid saturated fats. Discuss reducing saturated fat with your doctor. Common sources of saturated fat include cheeses, red meats, sausage, bacon, butter, and full-fat dairy products.
4. Switch to low glycemic index foods. In order to reduce insulin and blood sugar spikes that may provoke inflammation, substitute foods like lean proteins, egg whites, skinless chicken and turkey, fish, vegetables, and raw nuts for high glycemic index foods such as cookies and crackers, candies, cakes, breads, bagels, and breakfast cereals. Note that whole grain products are only slightly better than refined white wheat flour products.
5. Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are widely touted for their heart disease prevention benefits. CRP reduction is just one more benefit. Discuss adding fish oil with your doctor. CRP reductions of up to 30 percent have been reported!
6. Flavonoids. Flavonoids are the compounds that give plants their color, and they are widely known for their health effects. Add inflammation reduction to the list! Not surprisingly, some of the most flavonoid-rich foods are the deeply-colored fruits (like blueberries, raspberries, and pomegranates) and vegetables (such as spinach, green peppers, red peppers, tomatoes, etc.). Other good but less obvious sources include red wine, dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content the better), and green tea.
7. Vitamin D. Vitamin D can act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. However, if you live in a northern climate or work indoors, there is a better than even chance you are deficient in vitamin D as it is produced by sun exposure. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of people in the United States are deficient in vitamin D. Unfortunately, the only way to determine if you are deficient is to take a blood test. There are several different vitamin D blood tests, so it is important to get the right one. Ask your physician for the 25-OH-vitamin D3 test. Many experts suggest you need to maintain a vitamin D3 level of 40 to 60 ng/mL. If your doctor suggests supplementing with vitamin D, make certain you are using vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and not D2 (ergocalciferol).
8. Fiber. Healthy fibers, particularly raw almonds, walnuts, ground flaxseed, and green vegetables are easy to include in your diet and can act as powerful suppressors of inflammation.
9. Niacin. Niacin is vitamin B3. At doses of 1000 mg or more, it can reduce CRP 15 percent to 20 percent (as well as raise HDL, reduce triglycerides, and reduce LDL cholesterol). However, at these “mega-doses,” it should only be used at the direction and under the care of your physician.
10. Aspirin. As you might imagine, aspirin can also lower inflammation and CRP but usually no more than 15 percent. Once again, even though aspirin is an over-the-counter product, its effect can be powerful. Aspirin always represents a bleeding risk and can interact with other medications you may be taking. Always consult your doctor before adding aspirin to any health regimen you may be considering.
There you have it, 10 ways to reduce inflammation and CRP without drugs for those who practice Informed, Self-directed Healthcare (ISH). It bears repeating that you should always discuss new health measures with your doctor before starting them. Medicine has become a fast paced, fast changing science. ISH is not a substitute for professional medical advice, nor is it about treating yourself. It is about educating yourself so you can work more effectively WITH your doctors to improve your health!