What Is C Reactive Protein?
Have you ever heard of something called a C-Reactive-Protein? If you ever have, more power to you. I discussed the CRP just a tad when I mentioned the 8 Blood Tests Everyone Should Have. A CRP definitely falls into that category.
What Is A CRP?
A C-reactive protein (or CRP for short) is a bio-marker for inflammation inside of the body. This protein is specific for inflammation issues inside the body. On a general level, this can point to clues of excess stress, poor diet, bowel diseases such as Chron’s or colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and for you women – pelvic inflammatory disease.
How A CRP Works
CRP is made in the liver and during stages of inflammation, the liver increases the production of CRP. CRP is thought of to be protective in that it binds to the surface of invading microorganisms (especially during infection) and targets them to be destructed. A CRP is a great test for general inflammatory issues going on inside of your body. The only time you shouldn’t get your CRP levels checked is if you know you’ve recently been sick, a recent hospitalization, or you have had a recent trauma. The test will be off the charts high due to the recent inflammation. Hence, it’s better to wait a while before having your levels checked (1,3).
While the CRP is a great test to have, for this post we’re going to be focusing on a different kind of CRP called a high sensitivity c-reactive protein test. This test is also called a cardiac CRP or hs-CRP. This test is a little more specific than the general test in that it is a better indicator of inflammation inside your arteries or vessels (1,2,3).
Why A Cardiac CRP Is Important
Did you know that about half of people who have heart attacks or strokes have normal cholesterol levels? That’s a pretty shocking statistic, isn’t it? Clearly, cholesterol isn’t the problem. Here is a brief rundown on how cholesterol in your veins/arteries can lead to heart disease or strokes (1):
1. A diet of high levels of the wrong kind of LDL or HDL (yes there is a bad kind of HDL) causes unnecessarily high levels of cholesterol in the blood
2. If the body is unable to remove the cholesterol from the blood the cholesterol becomes oxidized and the body starts to attack the cholesterol (an inflammatory response)
3. When the body’s immune response breaks down the damaged (oxidized) cholesterol it causes the particles to “stick” to your vessel walls and this is where the formation of “plaque” begins
4. This plaque buildup is also called a lesion and sometimes these lesions build up so big that they can actually block the vessel
5. As the lesion build up of damaged LDL, the body recognizes this as a dangerous threat and the body actually sends “fighters” to attack the cap of the lesion
6. As the inflammatory response descends on the lesion, it can become unstable and the cap can rupture forming a clot and also furthering the inflammatory response
7. The clot can grow and become unstable. The unstable clot can break off and clog smaller arteries “down stream” leading to a heart attack or stroke
For more on how LDL becomes damaged see our brief series on fat here.
Because the body’s inflammatory response is such a huge role in the progression of atherosclerosis (the fancy word for plaque build up) you could understand the significance of having a hs-CRP test. Also, if normal cholesterol levels are still causing brain or heart attacks oxidation and controlling inflammation is the issue. Originally, an entire class of drugs called Statins was put on the market because they help to reduce cholesterol levels. They also have anti-inflammatory effects which probably have a better effect on reducing atherosclerosis than the. Statins also come with a hefty dose of side effects. A lot of these side effects lead people to not want to take them down the road. Also, cholesterol plays a vital role in making hormones in the body.
What You Can Do About Inflammation
Well, for starters, foods with a high sugar content are very pro-inflammatory. Have them sparingly or eliminate them from your diet completely. Also, ensure that your HDL levels are high – HDL acts as a broom to pick up LDL particles out of your bloodstream so that they don’t sit there and become oxidized.
Normal hs-CRP Levels
Currently the levels go something like this: if you have a level of 1.0 or less that’s a low risk, anything between 1.0-3.0 is an average risk, and last of all, anything above 3.0 is a high risk (2). Again, c-reactive proteins are a marker for any kind of inflammation so if you have a level above 10, there might be something else going on inside your body that you need to discuss with your doctor (1). As I said before, any recent hospitalization, infection, or trauma can have c-reactive levels be VERY high and you will need to wait until things calm down inside your body before having a cardiac-CRP performed. Always be sure to discuss your medical history (including recent illness or trauma) if you have abnormal CRP results with your doctor.
For more information on how cholesterol works inside your body – including the nasty side-effects of Statins I really recommend this book called The Great Cholesterol Myth. This book will change your life in the way you view your diet when it comes to fats and cholesterol. For more info you can check this book at the YLB Store:
1. Porth, Carol Mattson, RN, MSN, PhD. Pathiophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 389-340, 486-489. Print.
2. http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/hscrp/tab/test – Note, these levels of measurement are based off the current American Heart Assocition levels.
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