lava pouring into the sea

C-Reactive Protein – Role in Inflammation

C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a substance that is produced in the liver with the function of increasing the amount of inflammation present throughout the body. This type of site-wide inflammation is called “systemic inflammation”. Usually a patient’s CRP is measured from blood tests, and it tells a doctor how much systemic inflammation is present within a patient’s body. In this way, CRP readings are used as an indicator or marker for disease.

In other words, a high CRP level indicates to a doctor that there is something wrong going on in the body. That’ because high levels of inflammation is not natural for the body, and usually only occurs due an injury or a disease. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, vasculitis, and other autoimmune diseases, high CRP levels may indicate a flare up in their disease condition.

High C-Reactive Protein & Chronic Inflammation

man standing in front of fire
Inflammation is often likened to a fire. A fire that purges us from illness, or at least tries to. Sometimes inflammation isn’t enough to kill certain bacteria, parasites, & viruses.

High CRP levels may also indicate that a person is experiencing chronic low-level inflammation. This is especially indicative if the high CRP level does not go down to normal overtime. Chronic inflammation is harmful overtime, because it contributes to the development of age-related diseases such as heart disease, cancers, and neurodegeneration like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

To explain why chronic inflammation is harmful, you must know that during the inflammatory process, free radicals are released to kill invading pathogens. Of course, with the white blood cell’s use of free radicals, there is some collateral damage.

Free radicals also end up damaging the surrounding area where the pathogen or trigger for inflammation is. Free radicals end up damaging and killing our own body cells, and may actually increase the risk for cancer by damaging a cell’s DNA. When a cell becomes precancerous, either the cell self destructs (apoptosis), or the immune system hunts it down.

Normally the risk of cancer due to temporary inflammation is small. But for prolonged inflammation, the cancer risk becomes substantially bigger. Over time, chronic inflammation causes our body to experience a lot more free radical damage than compared to normal inflammation, which eventually subsides. The increased barrage of free radicals also explain why the risk for age-related diseases increases.

For example, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease both involves the hardening and narrowing of arteries and/or other blood vessels. Free radicals are related, because they damage the cholesterol and other lipoproteins that travel through the blood stream. This causes the lipoproteins to oxidize, and then deposit on the inside of the blood vessels. Overtime, the deposits thicken, thereby narrowing and eventually blocking blood from flowing through arteries and other blood vessels[1].

Note that Pulsatile Tinnitus may be related to chronic inflammation, given that it is caused by atherosclerosis. Also note that antioxidants actually protect the body and the lipoproteins from being oxidized by free radicals.

What Increases C-Reactive Protein Levels?

C-Reactive Protein Molecule
3D model of a C-Reactive Protein Molecule

So you must be wondering, what increases C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels in the body? Well, basically anything that is unhealthy or causes inflammation fits the bill. That includes the existence of diseases. That’s why measuring CRP levels in the blood is a good way to check if something is going wrong in the body. More specific factors that increase the level of CRP in the body includes:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune Diseases
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Lupus
    • IBS
  • Genetics
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • High Stress Levels
  • Toxins
  • Diet

There is one thing that I want to mention about diet. Our body’s digestive system isn’t as simple as producing enough enzymes and HCl to digest the food that we ingest. There is the vast complicated factor of microbes that live inside our digestive tract. These microbes may help us digest our food as “probiotics”, contribute to our immune system, do nothing or be “neutral”, and may also be harmful to us as “pathogens”.

This is related to CRP because pathogenic bacteria produces toxins that harm the body and raise CRP levels. Whereas probiotics keep pathogenic microbes in check and thereby keep CRP levels low. So the health of our digestive system, particularly the balance between good & bad bacteria, has a significant role in controlling CRP levels.

Related Links

Books About C-Reactive Protein

Sources

  1. Free radicals and antioxidants in cardiovascular disease [Br J Clin Pharmacol.] [PDF]
  2. Association between Inflammatory Marker, Environmental Lead Exposure, and Glutathione S-Transferase Gene [Biomed Res Int.]

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