I write about chronic inflammation, which has long been recognized for its role in contributing to metabolic dysfunction, neurodegenerative disease, certain types of cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Given the focus on prevention and early detection, I tracked an inflammation biomarker that I could measure on a regular basis (I do my blood tests once every 3 months) and experimented with my lifestyle habits to see if that could help bring my inflammation under control.
The biomarker C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is produced by the liver and rises rapidly in response to acute inflammation, such as during an infection, injury or immune related diseases. While hs-CRP ( high sensitive CRP) is particularly useful because it can detect even low levels of chronic or long-term inflammation that may be associated with conditions like cardiovascular disease, or metabolic syndrome, it is not specific to any one type of disease or condition. There are other markers of inflammation, such as Lp-PLA2, which are more specific to a disease (in this case to atherosclerosis).
It is important to state that inflammation by itself is not a bad thing; the body produces inflammation as a defense mechanism to protect itself from infections and injuries, promote healing, and maintain overall health. However, the balance of inflammation must be carefully regulated to prevent chronic or excessive inflammation, which is the real issue.
My goal was to find what lifestyle changes I could make to address chronic inflammation. Here are the changes I focused on, that led to improvements in my hs-CRP levels:
1. Diet: I eat fruits (1-2 servings a day), vegetables (as colorful as possible), whole grains, lean proteins (chicken in my case), and healthy fats (mixed nuts, avocado, olive oil, etc.). Fish, such as mackerel and salmon, are excellent sources of healthy fats but I am not a fish eater. I incorporated turmeric and ginger into my meals. I cut out sodas completely and reduced ultra-processed food (apart from a Krispy Kreme donut once in a rare while). I haven’t cut out sugars but I have found that eating it with fiber and protein while also doing my post-meal walk allows me to deal with it.
2. Regular Exercise: I engage in regular physical activity, including both cardiovascular exercises (soccer and walking while on calls) and strength training (3x - 4x a week).
3. Limiting my Alcohol Consumption: I have basically eliminated this to the point of no more than one glass of alcohol a month in the worst case. I have found that drinking a large glass of water, if I am tempted to have my favorite Mimosa, ensures I lose any interest in having it.
4. Adequate Sleep: When there were periods of poor sleep, I did see my hs-CRP levels go up significantly. My goal was to have my combined Deep and REM sleep together be at about 30% of my total sleep.
5. Stress Management: I don’t do this too well but if you can, it is expected to help with reducing inflammation.