Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
What You Need to Know about C-Reactive Protein
model of a c-reactive proteinHigh-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a hot topic for cardiologists and other physicians who share a strong focus on prevention. CRP is clearly associated with heart disease risk, but exactly how it should be used remains the subject of much ongoing debate in the medical community. “High sensitivity” refers to the way the blood work is run by the laboratory, and demands a greater level of accuracy than an older version of the test.
CRP increases in the bloodstream in response to inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be the trigger that causes many heart attacks. When CRP levels are high, cholesterol plaque in the heart arteries may become unstable, causing the plaque to rupture and setting off a cascade of reactions that ultimately block off vital blood flow to the heart muscle.
At first, it appeared that CRP itself was the culprit. However, several studies of genetically high CRP levels found no connection to heart disease. We now know that high CRP is often a marker for a toxic lifestyle. The more red meat, processed foods, and trans fats you consume, the higher your level will be. Smoking and obesity (especially in the abdominal area) will also boost CRP levels, since they are direct causes of inflammation. Estrogen intake, in pill form, can also raise CRP.
You can lower your CRP through a Mediterranean diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and by keeping your weight in a healthy range. Moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink several times a week for women, up to two drinks for men) will also lower CRP. Sometimes statin drugs are prescribed for elevated CRP levels.
If your CRP level is high despite your very best efforts, it is important to be sure that there is no other source of inflammation, such as infection or arthritis. If not, your CRP may well be a result of genetics, and not lifestyle.
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