Q: At my last physical, I was told I had an elevated CRP level. What exactly is CRP, and can I lower it naturally?
Dr. Wright: CRP stands for C-reactive protein. It is a protein that circulates in the blood, especially when there is inflammation in the body, including inflammation of the coronary arteries. Doctors are finding that it is a far more accurate indicator of a future problem with heart disease than cholesterol levels alone.
The simplest way to lower the CRP level is to reduce inflammation in the body. The best way to accomplish this is to pay close attention to the ratio of essential fatty acids in the diet.
Here’s a simple rule to remember: Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. So the fatty acid ratio should be more 3s and less 6s. Unfortunately, the standard diet is much heavier on the omega-6s.
But you can reverse that with a few simple changes. Foods containing hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are the biggest offenders for loading up on omega-6s. Staying away from potato chips, corn chips, crackers, and cookies are a good start — but when you start reading the labels at the grocery store, you might find that even things you considered “healthy” also contain it. Also, most nut oils, like sunflower, peanut, and almond, are high in omega-6s. Olive oil is the best choice.
Fish oil is the best way to increase your intake of omega-3 essential fatty acids. I recommend 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil and 1,500 milligrams of DHA daily. And remember, whenever you take any type of fatty acid, you need to take vitamin E as well (400 IU of vitamin E as mixed tocopherols). Vitamin E helps keep the fatty acids from breaking down too rapidly in the body.
Also worth noting, sometimes CRP can be elevated with other types of infection such as chlamydia and helicobacteria. These can also inflame blood vessels. Make sure your doctor checks all possibilities thoroughly.