By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
Ask most doctors what the biggest risk factor for heart disease is and they will probably say “cholesterol.” But if you’re a long-time Advanced Natural Wellness Bulletin reader, you know that isn’t the whole story. In fact, I’ve been telling you about another risk factor – inflammation – for years.
Now researchers have finally realized that inflammation is central to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) – the No. 1 killer in America. A protein called C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of the best markers for this invisible inflammation. Until now, however, some scientists have debated whether it was any better than LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in accurately predicting who is at risk. But new evidence proves what integrative practitioners already knew.
The CRP-CVD Link
This past November, three studies were presented at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans. Combined with earlier research, the findings favor combining high-sensitivity CRP (hsCRP) testing with LDL-cholesterol to determine the risk of heart disease. The studies confirm that hsCRP results can identify people at risk for a heart attack or stroke who might otherwise be classified at a lower risk based solely on their LDL levels.
Of course, this isn’t the first time science has shown the value of CRP. In one study, Harvard researchers reviewed the data from 1,086 men participating in the Physicians’ Health Study – half of whom had experienced a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot in a major vessel and half who had not. After analyzing the data, the Harvard team found that the men with the highest CRP levels were three times more likely to suffer a heart attack and twice as likely to have a stroke than the subjects with normal levels. Other studies have also detected CRP in atherosclerotic lesions, where it has been found to attract white blood cells called monocytes and increase the production of sticky molecules in endothelial cells.
So the fix is in: hsCRP is an excellent predictor of CVD risk, even when LDLs are normal. Since using both indicators is your best bet, ask your doctor to order hsCRP with your next lipid profile.
The American Heart Association currently classifies hsCRP values over 3 m/ml as high risk, although some research has found that anything over 2 m/ml greatly increases your chance of developing cardiovascular disease. But don’t panic if your CRP level is high. There are some simple ways to bring it down.
If you have high CRP – and especially if you have high LDL levels, too – your doctor may want to put you on a statin drug. But there are healthier ways to reduce inflammation.
Lose weight. A few years ago, scientists from the University of Vermont, Burlington, followed 61 obese postmenopausal women and found that their CRP levels went down when they lost weight. In fact, on average, the participant’s CRP was reduced by more than 32 percent – from 3.06 m/ml to 1.62 m/ml – after a weight loss of 33 pounds.
Quit Smoking. According to Dutch researchers, long-term cigarette smoking can raise CRP levels. It also raises blood pressure, accelerates your heart rate, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and constricts arteries throughout the body. The good news? Quitting can significantly lower CRP levels and internal inflammation, as well as reduce the other risk factors for heart disease.
Exercise can also reduce C-reactive protein. Among the nearly 14,000 adults participating in a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who exercised the most had the lowest blood concentrations of CRP. In another study, moderate exercisers were 15 percent less likely than couch potatoes to have elevated CRP levels, and those who exercised vigorously were 47 percent less likely to have a high CRP level.
Axe CRP With Antioxidants
Supplements can also help reign in CRP levels. Take vitamin C, for instance. According to a new study by researchers at Tufts University, consuming 250 mg. of this potent antioxidant twice a day can effectively lower plasma CRP levels in both men and women. Another recent study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine suggests that taking as much as 1,000 mg. of vitamin C daily is equally effective in people with high CRP but normal cholesterol levels.
Scientists are also discovering that vitamin E lowers CRP levels. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center gave 1,200 IU of vitamin E to diabetic patients with high CRP levels every day for three months. By the end of the trial, the Texas team found a significant decrease in CRP and suggested that vitamin E could be an effective therapy in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
One Last Thing …
You may know that dark chocolate is rich in naturally occurring flavonoids, those heart-healthy polyphenol compounds. But did you know flavonoids have anti-inflammatory properties that can lower CRP?
Two recent studies – one from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and one from Italy – suggest that regularly eating dark chocolate can lower levels of CRP. The Johns Hopkins study found benefits after just a week of eating three-and-a-half ounces of dark chocolate (containing 70 percent cacao solids and 700 mg. of flavonoids) a day, lowering CRP levels 23 percent in women. The Italian research – a population study that relied on self-reports – found that just two-thirds of an ounce of dark chocolate (20 grams of flavonoids) every three days reduced CRP.
Eating small amounts of dark chocolate (emphasis on small to avoid overdoing calories) may provide a tasty, sensual way to help keep CRP levels down and the risk of cardiovascular disease under control.
Research Brief …
A few weeks ago, I told you about the attack on glucosamine and chondroitin. But now, at least one of these nutrients has been vindicated by a new study in the February issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, which shows that chondroitin sulphate really does prevent degradation in the joint structure of people suffering from osteoarthritis.
During the trial, 622 people with osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to receive an 800 mg. proprietary chondroitin supplement or a placebo for two years. Chondroitin sulphate was associated with a significant reduction in joint-space loss and pain compared to the placebo group.
This study solidifies the evidence that chondroitin doesn’t just ease the pain of osteoarthritis, it actually improves the structure of joints – which slows the progression of the disease. For best results, take a chondroitin supplement that also includes glucosamine. The optimal dosage is 400 mg. three times a day or 600 mg. twice a day.
Forsythe LK, Wallace JM, Livingstone MB. “Obesity and inflammation: the effects of weight loss.” Nutrition Research Reviews. 2008;21:117-133.
Hamed MS, Gambert S, Bliden KP, et al. “Dark chocolate effect on platelet activity, C-reactive protein and lipid profile: a pilot study.” Southern Medical Journal. 2008;101:1203-1208.
“Heart Disease Risk and C-reactive Protein (CRP).” MedicineNet.com
Hoekstra T, Geleijnse JM, Schouten EG, et al. “Smoking and CRP: results of the Arnhem Elderly Study.” CRP 2001; 1:18.
Kahan A, Uebelhart D, De Vathaire F, et al. “Long-term effects of chondroitins 4 and 6 sulfate on knee osteoarthritis: The study on osteoarthritis progression prevention, a two-year, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2009; 60:524-533.
Tchernof A, Nolan A, Sites CK, et al. “Weight Loss Reduces C-Reactive Protein Levels in Obese Postmenopausal Women.” Circulation. 2002;105:564-569.