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Why Cholesterol Levels Aren’t Your Best Indicator of Future Health Problems

Every day you see commercials suggesting that if only you can lower your cholesterol you’ll be in better health. These commercials are usually for one cholesterol lowering drug or another.

What you may not know is that recent research points to a much more reliable indicator of potential cardiovascular problems. In addition, this new information shows promise of identifying other chronic illnesses as well, including some types of cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, dysmetabolic syndrome X and type II diabetes.

What is this health indicator? It goes by the name of C-Reactive Protein, or CRP for short. Discovered in 1930, blood levels of CRP indicate the degree of inflammation in the body. This includes acute bacterial infections as well as chronic, longer-term inflammation.

More recent studies show that chronic inflammation is a major contributing factor for the formation of plaque on the inside of blood vessels. This makes identifying elevated CRP levels a crucial way to assess potential risk for heart disease.

This is particularly important because half of all people who experience heart attacks don’t have elevated cholesterol. This isn’t to say that elevated cholesterol is not a factor in heart health, however it may only be important in the presence of inflammation.

Ideally, you will know your levels of both CRP and cholesterol to assess your cardiovascular risk. The specific test to measure cardiac risk is called hs-CRP (high sensitivity CRP). You will probably have to specifically request that your doctor include this test at your next physical. While you’re at it, also be sure to check your blood homocysteine levels, another marker for potential heart problems.

It’s important to know that CRP levels increase with obesity, smoking, inactivity and lack of sleep. So the advice to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise and get plenty of sleep still applies for reducing risks of cardiovascular problems.

You may also be able to reduce your CRP levels by taking supplements such as vitamin E, borage oil, fish oil (Omega-3), DHEA, vitamin K and nettle leaf extract. Diets low in arachidonic acid, omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fats, high-glycemic food and overcooked food can also suppress inflammatory factors in the body.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Joan CrawfordAugust 22, 2011, 8:01 am

    I have high Cholesteral. I quit taking drugs for it nearly twoyears ago. However I still have considerable muscle pain. Would this be from the drugs that I used to take? (statins)

  • Dr. BruceAugust 22, 2011, 8:17 am

    Hi Joan,

    I’m sorry to hear about your muscle pain.

    The answer to your question depends on a number of factors. For example, did the muscle pain start after you began taking the statin? If so, then there is a good chance the pain is statin related.

    Other factors include what statin you took and how long you took it. Some are stronger than others. And the longer you take them, the more likely you will have problems.

    Add to that the fact that each person is unique. That means you will have your own unique response to the drug. Because of that I wouldn’t rule out the muscle pain persisting from statin use, even long ago.

    Dr. Bruce

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