Why You Should Ask About Your CRP Level
A healthful diet and regular exercise can help lower cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease risk factors. Reducing your intake of saturated fat is also recommended, based on the theory that saturated fat plays a role in boosting cholesterol levels. At least, that used to be what experts thought. Times have changed, though. Now it appears as if dietary sugar is much more of a threat to long-term health than saturated fat. Is your doctor keeping up?
It’s helpful to get plenty of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats from plants. Olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc., supply these healthful fats. But saturated fat doesn’t appear to boost cholesterol levels significantly. Rather, most blood cholesterol is generated in the liver, so the majority comes from your own body. That’s not to say diet is not important. Sugar encourages fat storage, and a lack of antioxidants in the diet can boost oxidized LDL-cholesterol levels.
Oxidized LDL-cholesterol is especially harmful to blood vessel linings, apparently. If you have other risk factors, such as large waist circumference, a high body mass index (BMI), or high blood pressure, your doctor may also order a test for C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a biochemical marker that provides an overview of longterm, low-grade inflammation.
Your CRP levels should be low. CRP is a protein produced by the immune system. It drives inflammation, and serves as a more reliable indicator of heart disease risk than LDL-cholesterol. That’s right: The CRP test is a better indicator of heart disease risk than a standard cholesterol test. Medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, have published comprehensive studies of this issue, and that’s what they’ve concluded.
The test is sensitive enough to help doctors identify heart disease risk. It only requires a bit of blood, too. And it’s relatively inexpensive. It’s also possible to lower an elevated CRP level by making improvements in one’s diet and boosting exercise levels. The next time your doctor asks you to have a blood lipid panel done, ask him or her about the CRP test. The cholesterol test is still useful, but the CRP test is arguably a better indicator of cardiovascular disease risk.
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Lavie CJ1, Milani RV, Verma A, O'Keefe JH. C-reactive protein and cardiovascular diseases--is it ready for primetime? C-reactive protein and cardiovascular diseases--is it ready for primetime? Am J Med Sci. 2009 Dec;338(6):486-92. doi: 10.1097/MAJ.0b013e3181c61b66.