Last week I began to see articles showing up prominently all over the media describing a blood test CRP, or C-Reactive Protein. It was touted as a new test that Doctors can use now to quite accurately and cheaply predict the risk of cardiovascular disease. At the same time, news flooded the health sections of media outlets that Crestor, a statin drug, reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes by almost half for those people who have normal cholesterol levels but have elevated levels of CRP. The common statements often made in the articles based on the so called JUPITER study: take a statin a day and you live longer.
There are a few things to say about these news that I find very interesting.
To begin with, CRP is not a “new” test. At our clinic, for almost ten years we have been using CRP — among other markers — to screen a patient for inflammation in the body. We use many different markers to assess the body’s burden of inflammation. We do these screenings, because we recognize that the real culprit of cardiovascular disease and many other chronic conditions is the result of chronic inflammation in the vessels and tissues.
While CRP tells us that there is inflammation in the cardiovascular system going on, specifically in the heart, CRP doesn’t cause the inflammation — its an innocent bystander just telling us that something is wrong. In addition, it doesn’t tell us why we have the inflammation in the first place.
The JUPITER study, shows that this drug acts as an antiinflammatory agent. So, while it reduces inflammation in the body, it does so without regard to where the inflammation comes from. In other words, this is another example on how a drug ‘snuffs out’ a symptom, but doesn’t address the cause of the symptom.
The causes of inflammation may be manyfold, including: lack of exercise, an inflammation-promoting SAD diet (Standard American Diet), elevated mercury levels and other increased toxic loads due to pollution, stress, dysfunctions in the genetic makeup that may lead to enzyme deficiencies, and lack of essential nutrients. A physician dedicated to uncover the causes will address relevant issues, which will let him or her determine a treatment plan that supports an optimally functioning, healthy body.
The study was conducted over two years. What happens in the years down the road when the blood levels of cholesterol levels are continuously suppressed to 50 mg/dL, as it was done in the study? We know that long-term use of statins can cause increased incidence of diabetes, and may cause problem with muscles, such as muscle wasting and muscle pain. This is because cholesterol is a vital building block of many steroids the body needs to build and maintain the body and a healthy immune system: estrogens, testosterone, cortisol, and vitamin D.
So, why should we take a daily statin that may reduce inflammation, alright, but on its way suppresses unnecessarily cholesterol levels, when there are numerous ways to address the cause of the inflammation in the first place? We shouldn’t. Instead, when some magic health claim is made in the news (or the opposite, such as the recent news that Vitamin C and E doesn’t cut heart risks), we should be careful in acting hastingly, and look at the total information available, before we make an informed decision. Sometimes, all we need to do is to read the small print of a study to realize that not everything is golden that shines. In this example of Crestor being touted as the new life saver in the JUPITER study, the small print is that Astra-Zeneca, the pharmaceutical company that markets Crestor, funded the study.
Much less news buzz created the study by University of California Berkeley that vitamin C reduces CRP blood levels effectively and safely. While it may be understandable for Big Pharma critics to jump to vitamin C instead of statins to reduce high levels of CRP, keep in mind that it makes sense to see an experienced integrative doctor to help you focus on the causes of the inflammation and create a comprehensive treatment plan that will lead to lasting health.
- Ridker PM, et al., Rosuvastatin to Prevent Vascular Events in Men and Women with Elevated C- Reactive Protein. N Engl J Med. 2008 Nov 9.
- Block G. et al., Vitamin C treatment reduces elevated C-reactive protein. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Oct 10.