This week’s post continues our “Understanding Your Lab Work Series”, with a focus on tracking inflammatory markers to reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Today, we’ll take a close look at Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP) lab markers, including what those markers tell us about your current and future health, optimal/functional ranges, causal factors behind imbalanced levels, and how to optimize your levels safely and effectively.
Who Needs the hsCRP Lab test and Why?
The hsCRP lab test measures—with a high level of sensitivity—the amount of c-reactive protein in your blood…
…what does this mean and why should you care?
In layman’s terms, the more c-reactive protein you have in your blood, the greater your levels of systemic inflammation.
And, the more chronic inflammation you have the greater your risk of chronic disease.
Extremely high levels of CRP are common in acute infections. That’s why we need a more highly sensitive assessment of CRP at lower levels to detect chronic (vs. acute) inflammation.
Sustained, even moderate elevation in this inflammatory lab marker gives keen predictive insights into your present and long-term risk factors for developing autoimmune disease, heart disease, and stroke.
Given the epidemic rates of the aforementioned diseases, we recommend all kNew Health members get their hsCRP levels checked.
What are the Optimal/Functional Levels of hsCRP?
When looking at optimal/functional levels of hsCRP as an inflammatory marker, we obviously want your levels to be as low as possible.
- Optimal range (meaning your body is not notably inflamed and is functioning properly) is less than 1
- Average range (meaning your inflammation is mild-to-moderate and not as optimal as you could be) is 1-3
- Sub-optimal range is any greater than 3. This is a sign your body has too much inflammation—and we will want to discover why
Bottom line: If your levels are above 1 and definitely if they are above 3, we want to uncover the root cause of that inflammation and get your levels down.
Root Causes of Sub-optimal hsCRP
As we’ve covered in previous content, chronic inflammation has many, diverse, possible causes including:
- A poor diet
- High blood sugar
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Injuries or trauma
- Excessive stress
- Not enough movement OR too much exercise
- Digestive health issues like Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Lack of sleep
Your Health Coach will work with you, through extensive questioning and advanced lab work, to uncover the exact root causes behind elevated hsCRP levels.
How to Quell Inflammation and Reduce your hsCRP Levels
For many people, lifestyle factors drive elevated hsCRP levels resulting from inflammation.
This is good news because lifestyle factors are within our control and thus relatively simple to adjust. Your kNew Health Coach can help guide you in this regard.
The Top 5 Common lifestyle solutions to help reduce inflammation and lower your hsCRP levels include:
#1: Practice stress management—while it may seem simple, stress is at the root of a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions[note]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071009164122.htm[/note]—so we want to focus some honest effort here. High stress impairs the immune system and can lead to challenges with “simmering” infectious dynamics.
Some effective stress management techniques to try include:
- Deep belly breathing
- Spending more time with friends, pets, family and community
- Cutting back on non-work-related screen time
- Practicing meditation or mindfulness
- Taking up a hobby
- Exercise and movement
#2: Adopt a whole foods diet—the “anti-inflammatory” diet is getting a lot of press these days.
And while it may seem complicated, the general idea is to eat less processed foods in favor of more fresh vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats (avocado oil, coconut oil, and pastured butter), nuts and seeds and gluten-free grains.
As best-selling author, real food advocate and media personality Michael Pollan says: “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, don’t eat it”. That’s the gist of the whole foods diet. The main challenge for many Americans is the consumption of too many refined, grain (flour) foods and sugar/sweeteners.
#3: Commit to a regular exercise program—when it comes to exercise, keep in mind that too little or too much can fan the flames of inflammation, therefore:
- Choose exercises that challenge your muscles for short periods of time. Like burst training, dancing, weight lifting, swimming or outdoor activities
- Aim for 20-30 minutes per day, with the goal of completing your workout feeling “worked” but not depleted
#4: Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids—these essential fatty acids or “EFAs” are crucial to maintaining a health inflammatory response.
Unfortunately, they are often lacking from the standard American diet. Here’s where to get them:
- The most potent forms of omega-3s come from fish oil. Therefore, we generally recommend increasing your intake of fatty fish like wild caught salmon and sardines, in addition to supplementation
- Supplement-wise, you want a high-quality supplement with about 2000 mg of combined EPA and DHA. At kNew Health we recommend a liquid fish oil supplement that supplies this daily amount of EPA and DHA in 1 tablespoon
Do you really need a supplement if you’re eating more fatty fish?
That depends upon your current state of health, the make-up of the rest of your diet, your hsCRP levels, and your symptoms and goals.
Due to the imbalanced consumption of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in our modern diets and our typical level of exposure to toxins and chemicals, supplementation is often beneficial. Your Health Coach can help guide you in this decision.
#5: Eliminate gluten from your diet—though not everyone on the planet needs to go gluten-free, if your hsCRP levels are high it is a good idea to eliminate gluten for a period of time.
Why? Because gluten is the #1 culprit in creating (and sustaining) leaky gut, which is the gut’s gateway to creating increased inflammation.
Other food sensitivities might be at play as well. How long you’ll have to eliminate gluten or other foods depends on your individual situation—some members only require a few months without gluten to recover their health, while others will choose to make it a lifetime goal. Again, your Health Coach can help guide you.
Can hsCRP imbalance be caused other factors besides lifestyle?
Yes, in rare cases high hsCRP can indicate a more complex health issue.
In that case, your Health Coach would likely refer you to a trusted Functional Medicine provider within our referral organization for further investigation.
Then, once that cause is isolated and under control, you and your Health Coach can regroup to help you keep your levels on-track.
How often should you get your hsCRP levels checked?
As with all lab markers, that depends upon your results.
- If your levels are optimal, annual testing is sufficient
- If they’re average trending toward high, re-testing may be recommended in 6 months
- If your levels are high, re-testing may be recommended in 2-3 months or sooner
- Your Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein lab marker gives us an excellent picture of your inflammation levels
- Every adult can benefit from at least annual hsCRP testing
- The lower your number, the better
- If your hsCRP levels are high, simple lifestyle changes will nearly always get those levels down
- If lifestyle changes aren’t enough and/or if your other lab work indicates a more serious issue, your Health Coach may consult with our Medical Team to refer you to a Functional Medicine physician for further investigation
It’s becoming widely recognized that inflammation is a driving cause behind some of the world’s most common, and most deadly, chronic diseases.
By keeping up on lab markers, like hsCRP, you can stay years ahead of potential problems or catch existing ailments early, and protect your health for the long-term.
Interested in what your hsCRP levels may reveal?
All kNew Health members receive an hsCRP lab workup as part of their initial lab work.