Low levels of inflammation in your blood over a long period can cause damage to the artery walls and may lead to stroke, heart disease, or vascular disease. A test called hsCRP measures low levels of inflammation (0.5 to 10 mg/L) in your blood. When the reading is above 3 mg/L, it means that you have sufficient inflammation in your blood to be considered at higher than average risk of developing heart disease.
What is hsCRP?
As a response to any inflammation in the body (infection, injury, autoimmune disease), your liver produces a protein called C-reactive protein that is released into your blood. Any elevation of the CRP level indicates the presence of an underlying inflammation. It detects levels between 5 to 1000 mg/L.
High sensitivity CRP (or hsCRP), as the name implies, measures smaller concentrations of the same proteins, between 0.5 to 10 mg/L. hsCRP can thus detect low levels of inflammation, which in the absence of any other disease process (inflammation), can be harmful to the arteries.
hsCRP reference ranges are as follows:
- < 1mg/L means you have below normal risk of developing heart disease
- 1-3mg/L means you have an average risk of developing heart disease
- > 3mg/L means you have higher than average risk of developing heart disease
- 10mg/L means you have very high risk of developing heart disease
Interpretation of these results is dependent on your current health status. Any presence of infection or injury may cause an elevation of hsCRP, thus eliminating the relevance of the result and your risk for heart disease. If it is an acute infection or disease, your doctor will wait until two weeks after the infection is subsided and repeat the test. If it is a chronic inflammation, then you may not be able to use this test to assess your risk for heart disease.
How Common is Heart Disease?
Millions of people have some form of cardiovascular disease, but did you ever wonder just how commonplace these conditions are?
Heart disease is a common problem in Asia. In Singapore, 16 people die from heart disease every day. About 1 in 3 deaths or 29.6% of all deaths are attributed to heart disease. In Malaysia, ischemic heart disease is the most common cause of death.
Heart disease is on a continuum that begins with poor lifestyle choices (bad diet, sedentary life, smoking, drinking, etc). Usually symptoms appear when the disease is already in the later stages. An annual visit to your doctor for a physical check and metabolic screening can identify these risk factors early and be managed accordingly– to avoid or delay complications to your health.
The Role of Lifestyle in hsCRP Management
Adopting certain lifestyle habits can help reduce inflammation and thus lower your risk of heart disease. These include:
- Adequate sleep
- Regular exercise
- Effective stress management
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
- Cutting down on processed foods
- Reduced exposure to environmental toxins
- Follow a Mediterranean-based diet
The following foods can help lower inflammation in your body:
- Olive oil
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fruits such as cherries, oranges, blueberries, and strawberries
In the meantime, cut down on your intake of French fries, soda, refined carbs, margarine, and red meat. While diet plays a key role in adhering to a healthy lifestyle, here are some other things you can do:
- Restore gut health
- Practice yoga
- Keep hormones in a healthy range
- Eliminate personal care products that contain high levels of parabens, fragrances, etc.
- Keep body weight in a healthy range
- Avoid using plastic as much as you can
Heart disease is preventable, by managing risk factors such as blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cholesterol, lack of exercise, and low level of inflammation in your system. The latter can be managed by lifestyle and dietary modifications including weight loss (if overweight), exercise and eating an anti-inflammatory diet. By checking your hsCRP level, you will know if you are at an increased risk of heart disease and will be able to monitor it, along with the aforementioned major risk factors.
If you’re interested in learning more about hsCRP and the consequences of abnormal levels of it, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!