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. You can only do something about what you know is there. There is one simple blood test that I suggest all of my patients have to find this out for themselves.
Meet the protein that measures inflammation levels.
C-reactive protein or CRP is an inflammatory protein that is one of best ways to measure your inflammation levels. Produced mainly by the liver, we all make CRP and in normal levels CRP helps fight off infections and protect your body. You see, inflammation is not inherently bad but just like anything else in the body—like hormones and bacteria—inflammation is subject to the Goldilocks principle: It can't be too high or too low; it needs to be just right.
Inflammation becomes damaging when it flares unchecked, like a forest fire fueled by gasoline. The CRP test measures your inflammatory firestorm.
So what raises CRP?
CRP is nonspecific. If it is high, it doesn't tell you what is causing your inflammation; it is just indicating that there is inflammation and how much of it is there. Research has found that CRP is raised in 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
Here's 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 gauge heart attack and stroke risk; the American Heart Association and the CDC use the following reference ranges to evaluate 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, we are looking for optimal health, so the functionally optimal range is less than 1 mg/L.
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 a 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. Quit eating so much sugar.
I'm hoping that this brings a big collective "duh," but it's worth mentioning just in case you don't know that sugar raises Inflammation. Several studies have shown that 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 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. This is your life. Do what you can to create healthy boundaries and an environment that is sustainable for your mental, emotional, and physical health.
5. Get your B's.
B vitamins folate and niacin were both associated with lower CRP levels. Activated B vitamins are essential for healthy methylation pathways, which is super important for keeping inflammation levels in check. Learn more about methylation here.
6. Get quality sleep.
The impact of sleep on health is drastically underestimated by most people. The science on sleep? 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 for 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 Jimmy Fallon and TGIT to watch another day at a more reasonable hour. Breathe. I know it's a lot to ask, but you can do this.
7. Maximize your fat-soluble vitamins!
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are wildly important for your health. One of the many reasons? 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. Get mindful.
Mindfulness meditation has so 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.
People who regularly exercise were able to lower their CRP! I am a fan of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and hiking to get the blood pumping.
10. No more trans fats.
If you are still eating trans fats in the 21st century, your health and I must kindly ask you to stop. 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. Take it easy on the alcohol.
12. Pump up your zeaxanthin and B-cryptoxanthin.
These two antioxidants are both great Scrabble words and CRP fighters! Research has found that people who have the most zeaxanthin and B-cryptoxanthin in their diet had the lowest CRP levels. The foods with the highest levels? Kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens, and broccoli.
13. Get your good bugs.
A probiotic blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium varieties decreased CRP in just eight weeks!
14. Tai chi it up.
Tai chi, a gentle Chinese martial art, was shown to decrease CRP in type 2 diabetics.
15. Increase your magnesium.
16. Enjoy a cup of joe.
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.
18. Have more sex!
Not that you needed a scientific reason, but having a healthy sex life lowers CRP. Men who had sex more than one time a month were less likely to have a higher CRP. Sex also increases immune-balancing cells! Now you have two good reasons to get it on. You're welcome.
19. Don't mix refined carbohydrates with fat!
Refined carbs aren't good by themselves, but mixed with foods high in fat they are a disaster for inflammation. A moderate-size mixed meal results in significant increases in CRP and the 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 away from healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and fruits.
20. Become a yogi.
Yoga has so many awesome health benefits, and one study points to its ability to decrease CRP. So get your downward dog on.