by Dr. Will Cole
Fifty million Americans have an autoimmune condition, millions more are somewhere on the autoimmune-inflammation spectrum, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds, and a shocking one in two men and one in three women will get cancer. This level of disease is not normal, but it is certainly common. And all of these conditions have one thing in common: inflammation.
With the ubiquity of chronic inflammation, it’s important to know where your inflammation levels are, so you can be motivated to make changes if you find out you actually have an inflammation problem. Fortunately, it’s easy to find out with one simple blood test that I suggest for all of my patients.
The protein that reveals inflammation levels.
C-reactive protein or CRP is an inflammatory protein and testing the levels of CRP is one of the best ways to measure inflammation. We all make CRP, which is produced mainly by the liver, and normal levels help fight off infections and protect the body. However, inflammation becomes damaging when it occurs out of proportion to the body’s needs, like a forest fire fueled by gasoline. The CRP test measures your inflammatory firestorm, but CRP is nonspecific.
If it is high, that means you have a lot of inflammation, but it doesn’t tell you where or why – it doesn’t pinpoint the cause of the “fire.” However, research has linked high levels of CRP with the following conditions:
- Autoimmune conditions (such as RA, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disorders)
- Brain inflammation
- Chronic fatigue
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
Your CRP lab guide.
To measure your CRP levels, I suggest running the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) test, which measures CRP in the range from 0.5 to 10 mg/L. Typically CRP is used to gauge heart attack and stroke risk; the American Heart Association and the CDC use the following reference ranges to evaluation a person’s risk for heart attack or stroke.
- Low risk: hs-CRP level under 1.0 mg/L
- Average risk: between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L
- High risk: above 3.0 mg/L
- Very high risk: 5-10 mg/L
- Greater than 10 mg/L: persistent elevation of inflammation
In functional medicine, however, we are looking for optimal health, not just absence of disease, so we determine the functionally optimal range as less than 1 mg/L, and this is the goal I suggest for my patients (and you!)
Here’s how to lower your CRP.
If your CRP levels are high, I recommend working with your doctor and a qualified functional medicine practitioner to find out what is causing your inflammation. Further testing and comprehensive health history can uncover the pieces to your inflammation puzzle. Here are my top tips for bringing inflammation levels back down to normal:
1. Cut the sweets.
Just in case you don’t already know this, sugar increases inflammation. Several studies have shown that the more sugar you eat, the higher your CRP will be.
2. Check your hormones.
Just like inflammation, hormonal health is all about balance. Higher levels of the hormones leptin and estrogen were both associated with increased CRP levels. Check out my hormone guide to learn about the telltale signs of the different hormonal imbalances.
3. Eat wild-caught fish and take high quality fish oil.
People with inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis were able to lower their CRP levels by increasing their intake of the beneficial omega fats found in fish.
4. De-stress your life.
I have written in the past about all the ways stress can hurt your health – and raising CRP is one of them. Multiple studies have found that people who have stressful jobs or toxic relationships have higher CRP levels. Do what you can to create healthy boundaries and an environment that is sustainable for your mental, emotional, and physical well being. It’s your life, and it should feel great….not constantly stressful.
5. Get your B vitamins.
B vitamin folate and niacin were both associated with lower CRP levels. Activated B vitamins are essentail for healthy methylation pathways, which is super important for keeping inflammation levels in check. Learn more about methylation here.
6. Sleep better.
The impact of sleep on health is drastically underestimated by most people, but studies show that the less you sleep (even for one night), the higher your CRP levels will be. You may have noticed that after a lousy night of sleep, you feel sore and tight. This is all thanks to CRP.
If you struggle with sleeping, try turning off electronics two hours before you go to sleep. You can also run yourself a warm bath with Epsom salt and lavender oil, and DVR your can’t-miss fave shows to watch another day at a more reasonable hour. Wind down mentally, breathe deeply, and hit the pillow.
7. Maximize your fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are wildly important for your health, and one of the main reasons is that they lower good ol’ CRP. I use comprehensive nutrient labs to check for these nutritional deficiencies and dose accordingly. While supplementation is typically needed, you can also focus on foods that are high in these nutrients.
8. Be more mindful.
Mindfulness meditation has many benefits, and one of them is its ability to fight inflammation. One study found that people with inflammatory bowel disorders drastically lowered their CRP with just six months of participation in a mindfulness program.
9. Get moving.
In an interesting study, people who regularly exercised were able to lower their CRP! I am a fan of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and hiking to get the blood pumping.
10. Ban the trans fats.
If you are still eating trans fats in the 21st century, your health and I must kindly ask you to stop. Even the US government is instituting a ban, so shouldn’t you? One study showed that people who frequently eat foods with trans fat have CRP levels 73 percent higher than those who consume few trans fats. Read your food labels. If you see terms like “partially hydrogenated,” put it down and walk (or run) the other way.
11. Ease up on the alcohol.
12. Pump up your zeaxanthin and B-cryptoxanthin.
These two antioxidants are both great Scrabble words as well as potent CRP fighters! Research has found that people who have the most zeaxanthin and B-cryptoxanthin in their diets had the lowest CRP levels. The foods with the highest levels? Kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens, and broccoli.
13. Go pro(biotic).
A probiotic blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium varieties decreased CRP in just eight weeks!
14. Try tai chi.
Tai chi, a gentle Chinese martial art, was shown to decrease CRP in type 2 diabetics.
15. Maximize your magnesium.
16. Enjoy a cup of joe.
Coffee lovers everywhere, can I get an “amen”? People who drank coffee were shown to have lower CRP levels. Can’t tolerate coffee? Green tea has similar CRP-calming benefits.
17. Be positive.
Say no to being a Debby Downer because pessimists were shown to have higher CRP levels. Being around negative people and being in toxic relationships also will increase your inflammation levels, so detox from unhealthy relationships and cultivate positive ones.
18. Have more sex!
Do I need to tell you twice? Not that you need a scientific reason, but facts are facts and a healthy sex life lowers CRP. Men who had sex more than one time a month were less likely to have higher CRP. Sex also increases immune-balancing cells, so now you have two more good reasons to get it on. You’re welcome.
19. Never mix refined carbohydrates with fat!
Refined carbs aren’t good by themselves, but mixed with foods high in fat, they create a perfect inflammation storm. A moderate-size mixed meal containing both refined carbs and fat results in significant increases in CRP and other inflammatory markers. In fact, in just one hour after eating that burger with a bun and greasy fries, CRP is triggered. The solution? Avoid refined carbs and focus on eating healthy fats. It is ok to eat your healthy fats with healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, though!
20. Become a yogi.
Yoga has many awesome health benefits, and one study points to its ability to decrease CRP. Get your downward dog on and enjoy the anti-inflammatory fall-out.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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