Updated December 29, 2014.
Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.
C-reactive protein, or CRP, is a protein found in the blood. High C-reactive protein levels signal excessive inflammation in the body. Inflammation, in turn, may increase your risk of chronic diseases, including colon cancer. If you have a high C-reactive protein level, you can take steps to reduce inflammation.
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- Move More: Regular physical activity tames inflammation. Aerobic exercise, such as running, does cause a short-term (hours) increase in inflammation, but done regularly, exercise leads to long-term anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Any form of moderate to intense exercise counts. Walking briskly, jogging or running, swimming laps, biking at a moderate to rapid pace, or anything else that gets your heart pumping and brings sweat to your brow will work.
- Focus on Fat: Eat healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, flax seeds, fish, olive oil, and canola oil. Limit red meat, which contains saturated fats that can increase inflammation and lead to high C-reactive protein levels. Have no more than one 3-ounce serving once or twice a week. Limit other high saturated-fat foods such as butter, cream, ice cream, and cheese.
Clean out the pantry and get rid of processed foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Excessive intake of vegetable oils found in most processed and junk foods can turn up inflammation, even when those fats are not hydrogenated.
- Watch Your Weight: Carrying extra pounds raises inflammation and is linked with high C-reactive protein level. Fat used to be viewed as storage tissue for excess energy that didn't interact with other cells or tissues. Now we know better.
Excess body fat has a life of its own. It produces hormones and other chemical messengers that turn up the flames of inflammation. People who are overweight and obese consistently have higher CRP levels than normal weight men and women. But there is some good news: Losing weight can bring down inflammation.
Even in our fast food culture, healthy weight loss is possible.
- Factor in Fiber: Who knew something as simple as dietary fiber can affect inflammation and C-reactive protein levels? People who eat the most dietary fiber have the lowest CRP levels. This suggests they have lower levels of inflammation than their fiber-phobic friends.
Add fiber first thing in the morning. Try oatmeal with fresh or frozen berries, nuts, and a sprinkling of flax seeds. Or try a high-fiber breakfast cereal with at least 6 or more grams of fiber per serving. Snack on fresh or dried fruit or veggies and hummus. Add extra servings of vegetables to dinner and make sure your bread is 100% whole grain.
- Tend to Your Teeth: Poor dental health contributes to inflammation. Gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, is the start of gum disease. Over time, that inflammation affects the entire body. This causes health problems as diverse as heart disease and accelerated bone loss.
It may seem tedious, but careful brushing and flossing of your teeth is a must for taming inflammation. Many people brush too hard, not long enough, or too long. Other people don't even bother to floss at all. Learn the ABC's of proper blushing and flossing and your entire body will thank you.
- Kick Butt: Smoking itself doesn't raise CRP, but it leads to conditions that do. For example, smoking can lead to dental problems, including gingivitis. Gingivitis puts you on the fast track to inflammation and high C-reactive protein levels. And don't forget that smoking is known to increase colon cancer risk.
Don't beat yourself up if you've tried to quit and failed. Keep trying to quit. Health experts note that most people need several quit attempts before they succeed. Every time you quit, you learn more about what works for you, upping the chances you'll succeed for good next time around.
D'Aiuto F, Nibali L, Parkar M, Patel K, Suvan J, and Donos N. "Oxidative Stress, Systemic Inflammation, and Severe Periodontitis." Journal of Dental Research. 2010 Aug 25. Epublished before print.
Kasapis C and Thompson PD. "The Effects of Physical Activity on Serum C-Reactive Protein and Inflammatory Markers A Systematic Review." Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2005 45:1563-1569.
King DE, Egan BM, and Geesey ME. "Relation of dietary fat and fiber to elevation of C-reactive protein." American Journal of Cardiology 2003 92:1335-39.
Ma Y, Griffith JA, Chasan-Taber L, Olendzki BC, Jackson E, Stanek EJ 3rd, et al. "Association between dietary fiber and serum C-reactive protein." American Journal Clinical Nutrition 2006 83:760-66.
van Winkelhoff AJ, Bosch-Tijhof CJ, Winkel EG, and van der Reijden WA. "Smoking affects the subgingival microflora in periodontitis." Journal of Periodontology 2001 72:666-671.
Yatsuya H, Jeffery RW, Langer SL, Mitchell N, Flood AP, Welsh EM, et al. "Changes in C-reactive protein during weight loss and the association with changes in anthropometric variables in men and women: LIFE Study." International Journal of Obesity 2010 Sep 21. Epublished before print.
- Tackle one healthy change at a time. Pick a simple change, such as bringing fruit to work for a snack so you don't have to raid the vending machine. Once this becomes a habit, tackle the next change, which might be taking a brisk, 15-minute walk at lunch time. Build on your successes step-by-step.
- Start simple. Health habit changes don't have to be huge to be of benefit. For example, if you smoke, quitting is very challenging. It takes a lot of planning and commitment. That is huge! But just because you're not ready to quit doesn't mean you can't improve your health with simpler steps. Eating better, adding in a little exercise (even a walk counts!), drinking more water, starting to floss your teeth... these steps all count and can improve health. Again, you can build on these small successes and this will build your confidence so you can tackle the bigger changes.
- Change your perspective. Many people focus on cosmetic benefits of health change, such as wowing friends at the class reunion. This is a fleeting objective. Once the event is over, what's your motivation to stick with new health habits?
Instead, focus on your health. There is nothing more important than your good health. With better health, you can spend more time with family and friends and enjoy every second of it. You'll be there to enjoy your kids, your grand kids, and maybe even your great grand kids!
We shouldn't take our health for granted and health is the ultimate goal for taking care of ourselves!
- Use all available resources. From the web to friends, family, and support groups, there's no shortage of resources for improving our health habits. Online support groups, chat rooms, and message boards allow easy access to a supportive audience. Support groups can give more substantial, in-person support and most are free.
Tapping into the wisdom of people who are trying to make health changes similar to what you are doing, such as eating more healthfully or quitting smoking, can be a real boost. You can get tips and tricks you may have never considered, enhancing your chances of long-term success with healthy habits.
What You Need:
- A check up with your doctor, if you plan to make major health habit changes.
- A good attitude.
- A readiness to improve your health habits.
- Supportive family and friends.
- Concrete goals.