For years, physicians focused on basic measures, such as blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol. But recently, more and more studies have shown that there’s a new MVP (most valuable predictor) when it comes to forecasting heart disease. It’s a substance that sounds like a grunge-rock band: C-reactive protein (CRP).
“Half of all heart attacks and strokes in the United States each year occur among people with essentially normal cholesterol levels,” says Paul Ridker, M.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard medical school. “There’s more to heart disease than just lipids. In addition to the problem of cholesterol, there’s the problem of the immune system or the inflammation response.”
A heart attack occurs when plaque ruptures inside your blood vessels. But that rupturing hinges not just on how much plaque you have but also on the degree of inflammation, Dr. Ridker says. Your level of CRP—measured by a simple blood test—helps detect this condition so you can predict whether you’re in danger of cardiovascular disease and stroke. “You can be at quite a high risk of both despite having normal cholesterol,” Dr. Ridker says. “Even people with low cholesterol but high CRP are at high risk.”
You can take steps to shrink your CRP. “If you have your CRP measured in your 20s and 30s, you can prevent heart disease and strokes in your 50s and 60s,” Dr. Ridker says. Aside from drugs such as statins, lifestyle changes are the best way to whittle down your CRP and, more important, snuff the flames before they snuff you. The following 7 Ways that Can Prevent You From Heart Attacks
POP A MULTIVITAMIN
A grande cappuccino isn’t the only thing you’d better slug down before you go to work. A study in the American Journal of Medicine showed that people who popped a multivitamin each morning for 6 months decreased their CRP by 0.7 milligrams per liter (mg/l). And a University of California at Berkeley study found that people who took 500 mg of vitamin C saw a 24 percent drop in CRP after just 2 months.
Arch Mainous, Ph.D., a professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, says CRP levels are connected to the amount of stress caused by free radicals in your body. “Vitamins C and E decrease the oxidative stress,” he says.
Take 500 mg of a vitamin C supplement, or a multivitamin like GNC Men’s Mega Men, which contains one of the highest levels of vitamin C (300 mg) in a multi. Another way to swallow more C: cherries.
In a small study published in the Journal of Nutrition, people who ate two daily servings of cherries lowered their CRP by 16 percent.