CRP: An inflammatory marker that predicts heart disease and cancer risk
(NaturalHealth365) C-reactive protein, or CRP, is a biological marker that doctors have long used to evaluate the amount of inflammation present in the body. But CRP is more than just a measurement of disease.
Researchers have found that levels can be used to predict not only the prognosis and likely survival outcomes of such conditions as cancer and heart disease, but to evaluate the risk of developing these diseases in the first place – even if you presently have no symptoms.
Warning: Elevated CRP levels are a “red flag”
CRP levels are used to track the development of chronic inflammatory conditions – raised levels can indicate a “flare-up” of vasculitis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other inflammatory and degenerative conditions. They can also be used to rule out or confirm certain diagnoses.
If that were all that CRP levels showed, testing would still be a powerful tool. But, elevated levels of CRP can also indicate an increased risk for heart disease and cancer – the top two killers in the United States.
And there is some evidence that elevated CRP doesn’t just indicate the presence of inflammation – it also actively contributes to it. For this reason, researchers are beginning to think that lowering your CRP may decrease the risk of disease.
What role does CRP play in disease?
Research has shown that CRP helps to dramatically increase production of various pro-inflammatory molecules, including cytokines. Levels of these inflammatory substances start to rise 6 to 12 hours after an inflammatory stimulus — such as trauma or infection – occurs, reaching peak levels in 48 to 96 hours.
This reaction is normal and beneficial when it helps to destroy invading pathogens or orchestrate a reaction to an injury. However, if levels of inflammatory molecules don’t drop back to normal, or continue to rise, chronic and serious inflammation can develop – and trigger life-threatening diseases.
CRP measurements are divided into three different tiers reflecting their risk to health, with lowest risk defined as levels of less than 1 mg/L, average risk as 1 to 3 mg/L, and highest risk as higher than 3 mg/L.
Ideally, experts say, CRP levels should be under .55 mg/L in men and under 1 mg/L in women.
Higher CRP goes hand-in-hand with increased risk of heart disease
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that patients with the highest CRP levels had a 45 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those with lowest levels.
Increased CRP levels were also shown to predict the development of high blood pressure, which raises risk of heart attack. Even when the individuals had normal blood pressure, elevated CRP levels could accurately reflect the risk that they would eventually develop high blood pressure – making CRP an enormously useful tool in predicting, and possibly avoiding, heart disease.
Other evidence linking elevated CRP with heart disease has emerged. Researchers say that higher levels of CRP are found in people with atrial fibrillation, and that CRP has been found inside arterial plaques and post-heart attack lesions.
To put it clearly: the higher the levels of CRP, the higher the risk of heart disease.
And this “fortune-telling” inflammatory protein can not only indicate the likelihood of heart disease, but also future risk of cancer.
CRP not only predicts cancer, it contributes to it
Researchers think that C-reactive protein can also predict the likelihood of cancer – as well as contributing to the inflammation that can trigger the disease’s development.
Studies have shown that high levels of CRP at the time of the first cancer diagnosis tend to foretell poor chances for survival, while normal CRP levels predict good outcomes.
In one study, researchers compared the CRP levels of breast cancer patients. Those with CRP levels over 10 mg/L had a 96 percent greater risk of mortality from any cause, a 91 percent greater risk of dying from breast cancer, and a 69 percent risk of having additional breast cancer-related developments.
How can I lower my elevated CRP levels?
Since abdominal fat seems to be associated with over-production of pro-inflammatory molecules, it’s not surprising that heavier individuals have higher levels of CRP. The good news is that losing weight – and particularly shedding abdominal fat – can lower CRP levels.
Eliminating trans fats from your diet, embarking on an exercise regimen, and stopping smoking can also reduce levels.
The role of nutrients and supplements
A combination of quercetin – a flavonoid found in fruits and vegetables – and vitamin C has been shown to dramatically lower CRP levels. In one study, published in 2012 in Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, a regimen of supplemental quercetin and vitamin C for 8 weeks caused a drop in CRP of almost 50 percent.
Curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant flavonoid found in turmeric, has also been shown to drastically lower CRP levels. Other nutrients with the power to cut CRP include zinc, vitamin D, ginger, red yeast rice and fenugreek.
Remember, even in people with no symptoms of disease, CRP levels can assess the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and more. Naturally, knowing your CRP level can be a powerful tool for preventing disease, especially because these levels can be lowered with some simple lifestyle changes.