C-reactive protein

Putting the C in CRP

Many HSI members have elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP).

That’s pretty safe to say because you could accurately make that comment about nearly any group of people. As I’ve mentioned in previous e-Alerts, CRP is produced by the liver in response to inflammation, which can be triggered by a wide variety of health problems, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and infections such as pneumonia.

Beyond being a reliable indication that the body is experiencing some type of crisis, elevated CRP has been shown to be an aggravating factor in creating blood clots that commonly lead to stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular events.

Now for the good news: There’s a very good chance that you’re already taking a vitamin supplement that may help reduce CRP levels. The question is: Are you taking enough?

C-ing into the future?

This month, researchers from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, reported on a study that examined the effect of antioxidant supplements on CRP levels.

The 160 subjects who participated in the study all had detectable CRP concentrations, but none had high levels and none were diagnosed with an acute illness. All of the subjects were smokers or were regularly exposed to second- hand smoke. Researchers divided the subjects into three groups; one group received 515 mg of vitamin C each day, one group received an antioxidant “cocktail” combining vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, and vitamin E (a mix of alpha- tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol and mixed tocotrienols), and a third group received a placebo.

Researchers took blood samples from each subject before the two-month supplementation period, and again when the test period was finished. Analysis of the samples showed that CRP levels rose slightly for those in the placebo group. Subjects who took the antioxidant mix experienced a small decrease in CRP (just under 5 percent). But in the vitamin C group, CRP dropped an average of nearly 25 percent. Researchers couldn’t explain why the antioxidant mix had relatively little effect on CRP while the vitamin C alone had such a significant effect. But needless to say, if future studies confirm these findings (which the UC team describes as the first of its kind), vitamin C supplements might eventually be considered part of the standard protocol in addressing elevated CRP.

Don’t buy the party line

Over the past couple of years, the importance of CRP has been steadily emerging on the medical mainstream radar. In fact, some in the mainstream have even observed (correctly) that CRP may be a more important marker for heart disease than LDL cholesterol. So it comes as no surprise that drug companies are already positioning some of their products to treat patients with elevated CRP – as many as 25 million Americans by some estimates.

According to a report from Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS), researchers for AstraZeneca (AZ) are currently testing the effects of their new cholesterol-lowering statin drug Crestor on CRP. This study is titled JUPITER (Justification for the Use of statins in Primary prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin). And the title is revealing: “Justification for the use ” It would seem that the desired conclusion of the study is already written. Now if the results will just cooperate and “justify” the use of statins, the study will provide AZ with a useful marketing tool.

In a side note, the IBS report states that, “there are currently no guidelines to treat high CRP levels.” What they’re saying here, of course, is that there are currently no drugs that have been approved to treat high CRP levels. This is a typical mainstream reaction: If we can’t treat it with drugs, there’s nothing we can do.

The reality – as the UC study helps illustrate – is that there are several effective ways to address CRP. As I’ve mentioned in previous e-Alerts, exercise, weight loss and an intake of omega-3 fatty acids have all been associated with reduced levels of CRP.

In any case, a doctor’s first response to elevated CRP should be to find out the cause and address that first. But you and I both know that if a statin drug is ever approved to treat CRP, many doctors will simply put the process on automatic-pilot: Elevated CRP? I’ll write a prescription for a statin drug. You’ll be fine.

Blood work

The next time you have blood drawn at your doctor’s office, ask him to make sure your CRP level is measured. And don’t assume that CRP will automatically be included in the diagnostic breakdown. From what I understand, many insurance companies currently don’t include CRP testing as part of the standard array of tests, so you may have to pay a slight additional charge. I expect this will change as the importance of CRP becomes more well-known as a critical tool in assessing risk of chronic health problems. (And, sadly, when the pharmaceutical companies stand to profit from your tests coming back high.)

In the meantime, if you want to try a vitamin C supplement to keep your CRP levels in line, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., provides an excellent commentary on the pros and cons of the different types of vitamin C in the e-Alert “Attack of the Vapors” (1/6/04). You can easily find this in the e- Alert archives on our web site: www.hsionline.com.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Plasma C-Reactive Protein concentrations in Active and Passive Smokers: Influence of Antioxidant Supplementation” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 2, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
“Vitamin C Supplement Could Cut Heart Disease and Diabetes” NutraIngredients.com, 4/14/04, nutraingredients.com
“Research Tests Statins on C-Reactive Protein” Internet Broadcasting Systems, 4/16/04, thewbalchannel.com
“Study to Determine the Effects of Statins and C-Reactive Protein on Cardiovascular Disease” Edelman Public Relations, March 2003, scienceblog.com