C-reactive protein

  1. Forget cholesterol...Ask your doc to check your CRP!

    You probably know your cholesterol level. But what's your CRP level? If you don't know it, you should - especially if you're over 65. In fact, according to many experts, CRP (C-reactive protein) is a much better indicator of your cardiovascular health than your cholesterol.

    If your CRP is too high, you're definitely at double or even triple the risk for a heart attack or stroke. But according to a new study, there's a way to control CRP. All you have to do is add modest amounts of one of the world's most common vitamins.

    Inflammation is your enemy

    Your liver produces CRP in response to inflammation in the body. It's your body's way of putting out the fire. In fact, the more inflammation you have, the more CRP you liver produces.

    Inflammation in your blood vessels leads to arthrosclerosis (or hardening of the blood vessels). In fact, almost 10 years ago Dr. Paul Ridker discovered the connection between CRP and vascular disease (disease of your blood vessels).

    In one study, Ridker found that patients with high CRP had a seven-fold increased risk of having a stroke. In another study, Ridker found that patients with high CRP had twice the risk of developing heart disease (compared to patients who just had high cholesterol). In fact, many of the patients who later suffered heart attacks would have gotten a clean bill of health if their doctors had only checked for high cholesterol.

    Without a doubt, CRP testing can catch a problem that cholesterol testing would miss. And it is a fact that at least half of all heart attacks and strokes in the country occur in men and women who have normal cholesterol.

    Not-so-hidden agendas

    If CRP is so important, how come we still don't hear about ways to lower it on the TODAY show? How come your doctor doesn't routinely check your CRP level?

    I call it "hush up" money. You see, Big Pharma only wants you to worry about your cholesterol. They spend billions of dollars to make sure you do. And that's because their most profitable drugs lower your cholesterol. They don't want you to know that taking a statin is like locking all the windows on your house, but leaving your front door wide open. (Interestingly, statins can lower CRP, but only if you take very high doses with explosive side effects.)

    The good news is that you can lower your CRP without taking statin drugs. All you need is a little vitamin B6. In fact, according to a recent study, B6 significantly lowers your CRP (without any of the dangerous side effects associated with statins).

    Cut CRP without statins

    Researchers from Tufts University measured CRP levels in adults ages 45 and 75. In their results, they found that patients with the most B6 in their blood had much lower CRP levels (compared to those with low B6).

    In fact, we're not talking slightly better numbers. The CRP levels in the B6 group were almost 50 percent lower! These patients also had lower levels of 8- OHdG, another important marker for cardiovascular disease risk.

    Healthy tickers without statins

    I can't stress it enough: make sure to ask your doctor to check your CRP level. Ask for a "highly-sensitive" CRP test (hsCRP). It's not usually included in routine blood work and you may have to pay a bit extra. But it's well worth it. Ideally, you don't want any CRP circulating in your body. But here's how to translate your lab results and assess your heart disease risk:

    * LOW RISK: hs-CRP lower than 1.0mg/L
    * AVERAGE RISK: hs-CRP between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L
    * HIGH RISK: hs-CRP above 3.0 mg/L

    Plus, based on the recent Tufts research, you may want to add B-complex to your regimen, especially if you're already at risk for cardiovascular disease. A decent B-complex should contain at least 50 to 100 mg of B6. I'd recommend adding another 100-200 mg/day of B6 to address elevated CRP. In addition, here are four other heart-wise supplements that can help reduce inflammation:

    * 1,000 mg L-Carnitine (take it with food for maximum effect)
    * 100 mg Coenzyme Q10
    * 500 to 800 mg Magnesium
    * 400 to 800 IU Vitamin E (as natural mixed tocopherols)

  2. Enjoy the last locally grown tomatoes

    Summer's over and I'm going to miss all the locally grown tomatoes I enjoyed on my salads. Not only were the tomatoes this season tasty, they also provided me with much-needed lycopene, a nutrient found in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables that's known to help protect against cancer, diabetes, and even male infertility.

    It's also good for your arteries. In fact, according to a new study published in the journal Artherosclerosis, high blood levels of lycopene were linked to lower cholesterol and C-reactive protein, two markers used to assess heart health. The study was done on women, but I'd bet the same would hold true for men.

    So if you never want to hear your doctor say "your cholesterol is a bit high," try getting more foods rich in lycopene into your diet. Fresh tomatoes are going out of season in many parts of the country, but you can also find lycopene in red bell peppers, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, and watermelon.

  3. More about cancer prevention

    Last week, we talked about prevention. It‘s not sexy, but it works. We learned how Chinese women lowered their risk of breast cancer by a whopping 87 percent simply by eating mushrooms and green tea. (Missed it? Click on this link: http://www.northstarnutritionals.com/article_list.php?docs_id=123). I also touched on colon cancer and Genentech‘s über-popular drug, Avastin. It can cost colon cancer patients upwards of $100,000 per year. But recent studies show that Avastin only extends a patient‘s life by a few months. Is that really the best Big Pharma has to offer colon cancer patients: A drug that costs you more than a new Porsche 911 but only extends your life by a few months? So this week, I wanted to talk about a powerful and proven way to PREVENT colon cancer in the first place. I just read about a terrific study by scientists from Harvard and Tufts Universities (and GlaxoSmithKlein R&D, if you can believe it!). They found that vitamin B6 can significantly reduce colon cancer risk. Just how much B do you need and how much did it help? I‘ll tell you that in a moment, but first let‘s talk about vitamin B.
    The big news about B‘s
    There are eight different B vitamins (together, they form vitamin B complex). They are all water soluble. This means it‘s very rare to get too much vitamin B because any excess is excreted. On the other hand, because your body flushes it out, you need to make sure that you get enough of it daily. Vitamin B6 is particularly useful. (You‘ll find it in any good B complex vitamin.) It helps your body metabolize protein, keeps your blood sugar in check, and boosts immune system functioning, among other things. And recently, scientists have begun to understand that B6 plays a role in keeping cell DNA intact. Good food sources of vitamin B6 include: whole grains, bananas, sweet potatoes (with the skin on), carrots, spinach, peas, poultry, and nuts. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin B6 is:
    • Men (19-50 years) 1.3 mg/day
    • Men (51 years and older) 1.7 mg/day
    • Women (19-50 years) 1.3 mg/day
    • Women (51 years and older) 1.5 mg/day
    Most decent multivitamins contain this much, but in my opinion it‘s not enough. Here‘s why... Slashing cancer rates with B6
    For years, different studies have floated around about the role vitamin B6 plays in preventing colon cancer. And maybe that’s why GlaxoSmithKlein (GSK) signed on to help this team of scientists looking at vitamin B6. No doubt, they‘d like to parlay vitamin B6‘s magic bullet into pharmaceutical gold. When you take vitamin B6 (or eat foods rich in vitamin B), your body converts it into pyridoxal 5‘-phosphate (or PLP). Studies suggest that PLP protects your cells‘ DNA from cancerous mutations. In fact, last year scientists in Scotland found that you could cut colon cancer risk by 20 percent by getting plenty of vitamin B6. Not bad for one of the most common nutrients on the earth, right? Well, this latest study looks even stronger. Researchers from Harvard, Tufts, and GSK analyzed data from the Physicians‘ Health Study of more than 15,000 men. They looked at the relationship between the amount of vitamin B6 found in the blood and the risk of colorectal cancer. They controlled for known colorectal cancer risk factors such as body mass index (BMI), exercise, and consumption of red meat and alcohol. This means that they left people out of their study if they had those known cancer risk factors. After some serious statistical analysis, they discovered that high PLP blood levels were inversely linked with colorectal cancer risk. What does that mean? Well, the more PLP the men had in their blood, the less likely they were to get colon cancer. In fact, the men with the highest amount of PLP in their blood had up to a 58 percent decreased risk! That‘s HUGE! Especially when you consider that nearly 1 million people get colorectal cancer annually around the world. Almost half a million men and women die each year from it. But imagine if we could instantly cut that number in half, just by getting more vitamin B! Vitamin B: A nutritionist‘s "baker‘s dozen" Vitamin B is just a great vitamin. It makes me smile just thinking about all it can do. In fact, the Harvard team found that men with the highest vitamin B in their blood, also had lower levels of homocysteine and C-reactive protein (CRP). Homocysteine and CRP are two of those markers of inflammation that many experts now use to assess risk of heart disease. (As you‘ll recall from previous Guides to Good Health, high blood pressure or high cholesterol just don‘t accurately gauge your risk of suffering a heart attack!) So this is great news for vitamin B-takers. Not only can you lower your colorectal cancer risk by up to 58 percent, you may also see improvements in key heart disease indicators. How‘s that for a baker‘s dozen? Just how much do you need? To get this kind of protection against cancer, the Recommended Daily Allowance just isn’t going to cut it. The men in the study who got the most protection were taking at least double the RDA. Most studies I‘ve seen suggest that protection against colon cancer begins when you start taking at least 3 mg/day of vitamin B. But remember, these are water soluble vitamins folks! You wash away any excess by the end of the day, so there‘s little risk of an overdose. Since that‘s the case, I usually recommend 50 to 100 mg of a good B complex vitamin each day. Though, if you can get that much in a multi, that’s fine too. If you go above 200 mg per day (and some people use up to 400 mg per day at the upper limit for interstitial edema), make sure to throw in 500 mg of magnesium.
  4. When yogurt’s not enough

    How does anyone who’s got ulcerative colitis go fishing on a friend’s boat in the summertime…backpack along the foot hills of the Smokey Mountains with grandkids…sit through an important three-hour lunch meeting? The answer is, they probably don’t. For anyone with full-blown ulcerative colitis (or UC), life is tied to the bathroom. A UC patient spends much of the day managing symptoms like chronic diarrhea (with bloody stools sometimes up to 10-20 times a day), bloating, intestinal pain, and even fever. That’s why new research out of Japan this week caught my eye. It showed that by restoring the gut’s “natural balance” of good bacteria, UC sufferers significantly improve their quality of life. Going from bad to worse A form of “irritable bowel disease,” UC often first appears in early adulthood. Patients go through periods of flare-ups, searching everywhere for answers. Over time, the symptoms can get worse and more serious. Because their body doesn’t properly digest food, the UC patient doesn’t get the nutrients needed to fight off disease. As the years pass with no cure, UC patients become increasingly at risk for developing anemia, autoimmune disorders, and even colon cancer. Many family doctors just don’t know how to help their patients live with—much less overcome—this insufferable disease. While it’s common to prescribe drugs to help relieve the symptoms, these provide little relief (not to mention serious side effects). But the new Japanese study has shown there is a possible natural solution. It’s really nothing new…but now there’s more hard scientific data to back up what nutritionists have been preaching for years. Start getting more “good bacteria” In the Guide to Good Health, I’ve talked often about maintaining “good bacteria” (also known as intestinal flora) in your gut. These tiny microorganisms help you digest food. They also defend against toxins and keep your digestive tract running smoothly. It’s also your first line of defense against disease. Normally, your digestive tract is lined with billions of good bacteria. But antibiotics or diarrhea (experienced chronically by UC patients) can wipe out these healthy bugs. The good news is, you can replenish your body’s natural supply with probiotic supplements. Why not just eat yogurt? Probiotic supplements contain billions of units of good bacteria. Two common types are called acidophilus or bifidobacterium longum (known as BIFI). There’s also a lesser-known microorganism—called a prebiotic—that helps the probiotic work better. Prebiotics (such as fructo-oligo-saccharides and psyllium) are carbohydrates that support the growth and activity of probiotics. When you take probiotics and prebiotics together, it’s called “synbiotics.” Some people think eating “active culture” yogurt like Activia gives you all that you need. But unfortunately, these products only contain a fraction of the good bacteria your body needs on a daily basis. Plus—they usually contain so much sugar, it’s not worth the bother. Divide and conquer Japanese researchers wanted to see if supplementing with these beneficial microorganisms would improve symptoms for about 120 UC sufferers. Patients were divided into three groups and given: 1. prebiotic psyllium (8 grams) 2. probiotic bifidobacterium longum (2 billion colony forming units) 3. synbiotic (meaning the patients got both the prebiotic and probiotic) Each patient followed the regiment for four weeks. Researchers found that patients taking just a prebiotic or probiotic alone did not significantly improve their quality of life. On the other hand, patients following the synbiotic approach (meaning they received both types of microorganisms) experienced a significant boost in quality of life. Their bowel function improved and their emotional health improved as well. Interestingly, the researchers also noted decreases in the levels of a protein associated with inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the synbiotic group. If you try it, keep me posted Now—this study certainly has its short-comings. For instance, there was no group receiving a placebo (or sugar pill) to compare against. Also, the researchers based their findings on patient questionnaires rather than an endoscopy (which would have measured the actual physical outcome in the colon and intestine). Questionnaires can be unreliable for obvious reasons. But overall, there is definitely hope that anyone suffering from UC can find relief by naturally restoring more “good bacteria” in their digestive tract. If you want to try a probiotic for yourself, I would recommend L. acidophilus in a capsule or powder. You can even find these in Walmart nowadays. Get the strongest dosage possible (in the billions of units or CFSs). You’ll also want to make sure to take these supplements before meals and at bedtime. And don’t worry…you can’t overdose of probiotics. Any unused amounts are just flushed out of your system. For a prebiotic, go for 8 grams of psyllium daily (just like in the Japanese study). Lastly, I would also recommend taking aloe juice, as it has a long history of calming bowel problems. Give yourself at least 2-4 weeks to notice a difference. And if you do get results—good or bad—make sure to e-mail me and let me know how it’s going.

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