The Connection Between C-Reactive Protein, Inflammation and Heart Disease

Why you should ask your doctor for a CRP test

By Lester Adler, M.D., M.D.H. For all the ways bodies are harmed, by viruses, bacteria or trauma, the immune system has but one defense: inflammation. Just a hard pinch will initiate swelling, redness, heat and pain. Specialized cells rush to the call ready to engulf invaders, while others break down compromised tissue so yet others can rebuild, leaving it good as new. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Yet many diseases result from the immune system in overdrive. Take heart disease—what was once blamed on dietary fat is now understood to be also about inflammation. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) starts with a streaky deposit of cholesterol in an artery. The immune cells infiltrate the area to get rid of it, but instead attract more cholesterol, adding to the growth of the plaque. Eventually, complete closure or catastrophic loosening of the clot into the bloodstream could cause a heart attack or stroke. Since this all unfolds below the surface, doctors use diagnostic markers to reveal this disease before it’s too late. Heart disease risk C-reactive protein is one of the hundreds of molecules used in the immune process. Produced by the liver in response to infection or inflammation, and also secreted by fat cells, CRP usually spikes within 48 hours of an acute insult after which it dissipates. But in chronic inflammation, it remains elevated. For instance, people with gum disease have unresolved infection, inflammation, higher CRP levels and higher risk for heart disease. Heart disease was rare just 100 years ago. Therefore this is an elective disease caused by our own lifestyles. Decreasing CRP could be one of the best ways to keep your immune system from turning against you. Essential CRP testing Knowledge is power. This is all the more true when it comes to our health. Since many diseases result from our own lifestyle choices, proper information can motivate us to make a major directional turn. One of the miracles of modern science is the serum blood test. Hundreds of molecules travel through our bloodstream, each one telling a story about our health. When you get your annual blood test, your doctor looks for important indicators that, if out of range, guide in treatment. C-reactive protein (CRP) is not typically among them. Don’t let that stop you. C-reactive protein is an established marker for inflammation, the defense and repair process of the body. It is designed for acute situations. When the irritant, and therefore, the inflammation doesn’t resolve, it hurts cell membranes, such as in arteries and veins. Elevated CRP is linked to a three-fold increase in heart attacks. But, heart disease is just one reason to have your CRP tested. Cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes and nephritis are also attributed to chronic inflammation. Even depression is now recognized as an inflammatory process. These diseases are usually long in the works. Inflammation silently irritates or “burns” tissue on a microscopic level. At some point symptoms break through. One day a person has a hard time walking. One day they realize that their cough isn’t going away. Or, one day they have a major event like a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that inflammation and CRP can be brought down. Proper diet, exercise, stress reduction and supplementation can ease the fire allowing tissues to recover… the sooner, the better. If you would like your doctor to order you a CRP test, ask for one. Say that you have learned that chronic inflammation is a silent condition and you would like to know if you have it. If your insurance will not cover it, then find out what the cash fee is and pay in advance. It could be as little as $10–$20. I suggest requesting an hs-CRP (high sensitive) test from your doctor. The optimal range is under 0.55 mg/L in men and under 1.5 mg/L in women. 2.4 mg/L has been associated with a doubled risk of a coronary event compared to levels below 1 mg/L; over 11 indicate acute inflammation. Remember, the CRP test is well worth the investment in your future health. This article is intended for educational purposes only.
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