C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein made by the liver. CRP levels in the blood increase when there is a condition causing inflammation somewhere in the body. A CRP test measures the amount of CRP in the blood to detect inflammation due to acute conditions or to monitor the severity of disease in chronic conditions.
CRP is a non-specific indicator of inflammation and one of the most sensitive acute phase reactants. That means that it is released into the blood within a few hours after an injury, the start of an infection, or other cause of inflammation. Markedly increased levels can occur, for example, after trauma or a heart attack, with active or untreated autoimmune disorders, and with serious bacterial infections, such as in sepsis. The level of CRP can jump as much as a thousand-fold in response to bacterial infection, and its rise in the blood can precede pain, fever, or other signs and symptoms.
The CRP test is not diagnostic, but it provides information to your healthcare practitioner as to whether inflammation is present, without identifying the source of the inflammation. This information can be used in conjunction with other factors such as signs and symptoms, physical exam, and other tests to determine if you have an acute inflammatory condition or are experiencing a flare-up of a chronic inflammatory disease. Your healthcare practitioner may then follow up with further testing and treatment.
This standard CRP test is not to be confused with an hs-CRP test. These are two different tests that measure CRP and each test measures a different range of CRP level in the blood for different purposes:
- The standard CRP test measures high levels of the protein observed in diseases that cause significant inflammation. It measures CRP in the range from 8 to 1000 mg/L (or 0.8 to 100 mg/dL).
- The hs-CRP test precisely detects lower levels of the protein than that measured by the standard CRP test and is used to evaluate individuals for risk of cardiovascular disease. It measures CRP in the range from 0.3 to 10 mg/L. (See the article on hs-CRP.)
Lowering C-Reactive Protein: Which Diet Works Best?
A recent much-publicized study found that you can reduce CRP levels by taking statin drugs, and doing so reduced the risk of heart attacks, even in people with normal cholesterol levels.
Since then, a lot of people have been asking: “Do I have to take statins to reduce my CRP? Can lowering C-reactive protein happen with drug-free ways, like diet and exercise?”
The answers: You don’t have to take statins to lower CRP.
“You can very effectively lower CRP levels with lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and regular exercise,” asserts Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
First of all, it’s important to understand that overweight and obese people tend to have higher levels of CRP, in part because bigger fat cells make more CRP. Explains Dr. Kenney: “Bigger fat cells excrete more of the chemical interlukin-6 (IL-6), which triggers the liver to produce more CRP.”
But how you lose the weight appears very important. Scientists are now learning that some weight-loss diets actually raise CRP levels. Others can significantly lower your levels of CRP, lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many other ills.
What Not To Do
Run from a low-carb, high-fat diet like Atkins. In a study published in 2007, scientists at Virginia Tech put mostly obese women on an Atkins-style diet. The women lost on average about eight pounds, but CRP levels shot up an average 25%.
Losing Weight and Lowering CRP
In the same study, the researchers also put the women on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, like the Pritikin Program, and found that the women lost on average nearly six pounds and CRP plummeted 43%, and in just four weeks.
Studies on men, women, and children attending the Pritikin Longevity Center have yielded similar benefits. The Pritikin Program was documented to dramatically reduce CRP levels in just two to three weeks: a 45% reduction in CRP levels for women, 39% reduction in CRP for men, and 41% reductions for children.