Lowering C-Reactive Protein: Which Diet Works Best?

A chemical in our bodies called C-reactive protein (CRP) has gotten a lot of press lately because key research is finding that high levels of CRP signal inflammation, and chronic inflammation is now linked with several diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

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A recent much-publicized study found that you can reduce CRP levels by taking statin drugs, and doing so reduced the risk of heart attacks, even in people with normal cholesterol levels.
Since then, a lot of people have been asking: “Do I have to take statins to reduce my CRP? Can lowering C-reactive protein happen with drug-free ways, like diet and exercise?”

The answers: You don’t have to take statins to lower CRP.

“You can very effectively lower CRP levels with lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and regular exercise,” asserts Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

First of all, it’s important to understand that overweight and obese people tend to have higher levels of CRP, in part because bigger fat cells make more CRP. Explains Dr. Kenney: “Bigger fat cells excrete more of the chemical interlukin-6 (IL-6), which triggers the liver to produce more CRP.”

But how you lose the weight appears very important. Scientists are now learning that some weight-loss diets actually raise CRP levels. Others can significantly lower your levels of CRP, lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many other ills.

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What Not To Do

Run from a low-carb, high-fat diet like Atkins. In a study published in 2007, scientists at Virginia Tech put mostly obese women on an Atkins-style diet. The women lost on average about eight pounds, but CRP levels shot up an average 25%.

Losing Weight and Lowering CRP

In the same study, the researchers also put the women on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, like the Pritikin Program, and found that the women lost on average nearly six pounds and CRP plummeted 43%, and in just four weeks.

Studies on men, women, and children attending the Pritikin Longevity Center have yielded similar benefits. The Pritikin Program was documented to dramatically reduce CRP levels in just two to three weeks:  a 45% reduction in CRP levels for women, 39% reduction in CRP for men, and 41% reductions for children.

Bottom Line

A diet that reduces weight does not necessarily reduce heart disease risk factors.  Some, like the Atkins diet, actually appear to raise them.

“Yes, there’s been media hype of late on studies that suggest that high-fat Atkins-style diets do not adversely affect cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular risk factors, but all of these studies had very poor compliance,” points out Dr. Kenney.

“One study that did in fact report good long-term compliance and similar weight loss for both a high-fat Atkins-style diet and a high-carbohydrate Pritikin-style diet found very different results for heart health. Cholesterol and other blood lipids worsened with the Atkins-style diet and dramatically improved with the Pritikin-style diet.”

And now new research, like this Virginia Tech study, are finding that high-fat, low-carb diets are also detrimental to heart-health because they raise CRP levels.

What’s best for both your waistline and your health is following a nutrition and exercise plan like Pritikin because it is documented in numerous studies to benefit virtually all issues related to cardiovascular health, including cholesterol levels, glucose levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, as well as inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein.

“No pill or combination of pills or quick-fix fad diet can ever give us the overall health and vitality that a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program can,” sums up Dr. Robert Vogel, cardiologist and co-author of the book The Pritikin Edge: 10 Essential Ingredients for a Long and Delicious Life.

Adds Dr. Kenney: “Health professionals should be leery about supporting the use of a high-fat Atkins-style diet that almost certainly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease even if it produces weight loss in the short term.”

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New England Journal of Medicine, 2008; 359: 2195.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2007; 26: 163
Metabolism, 2004; 53: 377
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2006; 100: 1657
Atherosclerosis, 2007; 19: 98
Preventive Cardiology, 2002; 5: 110

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