CRP stands for C-reactive protein, a non-specific biomarker that detects the presence and level of inflammation in our body. This protein is produced by the liver whenever there is a threat to our system such as an inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis), injury (trauma) or cell death (heart attack). And we can easily measure the level of CRP from a simple blood test.
This CRP blood test measures the presence and level of inflammation (the higher the more serious) and to monitor disease progress and response to treatment (when it falls, inflammation is in recovery).
The release of CRP is a part of the body’s defence mechanism against inflammation. However, the body is not always successful in combating it and can result in excessively high CRP levels. Since CRP is not a very specific marker, it cannot be used for diagnostic purposes by itself. It can only indicate the presence of inflammation or infection, and not its site.
A CRP test value less than 10 mg/L is considered normal, while a higher value can result from several inflammatory conditions, including infections, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, sepsis, cancer, burns, trauma or even after surgeries. Or it can also indicate lifestyle choices rather than disease process as seen below.
Can CRP Levels be Abnormal Without Obvious Inflammation?
Unfortunately, yes. According to Oprah’s own research team, studies conclude that there are certain people whom by nature of their lifestyle choices, tend to have higher CRP levels:
- Overweight and obese: According to one study, 50 percent of overweight individuals and 75 percent of obese people had elevated CRP
- Unhealthy eating: According to a Harvard medical school study, healthy women who ate a lot of refined carbohydrates (high glycemic content) such as white bread, muffins and cold breakfast cereal tend to have higher CRP levels. Sugar raises insulin level, which can have a pro-inflammatory effect.
- People who don’t floss: bacteria between your teeth can infect your gums and raise your CRP levels. People with gum disease have double the risk for developing heart disease.
- People who do not sleep enough and are chronically stressed: these people tend to have elevated cortisol and CRP levels.
- People on the pill (oral contraceptive)
- People who have chronic allergies
Why is it Important to Track CRP?
Reducing CRP levels can lower the risk of chronic inflammatory and degenerative disorders such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. However, this is not all. A few studies demonstrate that CRP is not just a marker, but when present in increased amounts for long periods of time, it can cause inflammation. Thus, tracking helps you to take preventive measures focussing on reducing the CRP levels and other risk factors, thus, reducing the risk of developing these conditions before they become life-threatening.
Hs-CRP test, (high-sensitivity CRP) is used to measure the risk of cardiovascular diseases in apparently healthy people as it can measure much smaller values of CRP in the blood, as compared to the CRP test. With the help of hs-CRP test, you can be categorized as lower-risk or higher-risk for cardiovascular disorders as follows:
- Low risk: 1 mg/L
- Average risk: 1.0 to 3.0 mg/L
- High risk: 3.0 mg/ L
What Other Tests Do I Need With CRP?
Since CRP test is not diagnostic by itself, other tests might be recommended along with it. Other non-specific markers of inflammation include ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate) or CBC (Complete Blood Count). Apart from these, you can also be asked to undergo few other tests, such as:
- Further blood investigations such as Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test, Rheumatoid factor (RF)
- Abdominal ultrasonography
- Urine and stool examination
- Chest X-ray
How Can I Balance CRP Levels?
Don’t worry. A visit to your family physician is not the only way you can balance CRP levels. With the help of certain natural remedies and lifestyle modification, you can lower CRP effectively. Few of these remedies include:
Obesity has been linked to several pro-inflammatory factors. Losing excess weight can help lower your CRP levels by reducing the chronic inflammation in your body. Obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and thus, maintaining a healthy weight offers multiple benefits.
A well-balanced, healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help balance CRP levels. An anti-inflammatory diet consists of food items that are successful in reducing CRP including fish, dark chocolate, probiotics and certain spices such as ginger and turmeric. A healthy diet can be supplemented with vitamin supplements including vitamin C, D and fish oil which also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Increased levels of stress can bring about inflammatory changes in our bodies. Thus, managing stress can help in lowering CRP levels, which lowers our risk of life-threatening diseases.
As a marker for inflammation, CRP can be measured with a simple blood test and provide a much-needed clue to the doctor in a clinical setting. If elevated, your doctor will let the medical consult and physical examination guide any further testing to see the origin of the inflammation and treat accordingly.
Chronic inflammation can have negative and potentially serious consequences on your health. Consider using this biomarker as a tool to detect any inflammation when suspected, and make certain life choices that promote anti-inflammation. Start now!
If you’re interested in learning more about C-Reactive Protein and how to maintain healthy levels of it, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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