High levels of C-reactive protein are thought to predict cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome, a newly-named set of unhealthy symptoms like obesity centered on the waist, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure, more flamboyantly known as Syndrome X. The metabolic syndrome is very common and on the rise in the United States. Researchers looked at C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.
What the researchers wanted to know: What is the relationship between C-reactive protein and the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes?
What they did: The researchers used the Framingham Offspring Study, in which a few thousand participants let medical folks poke, prod, and take blood from them over many years in the interests of learning about cardiovascular disease. Among those blood tests is a test for C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a chemical your body makes and deploys in inflammation. This study uses data from the fifth round of exams, carried out from 1991 to mid-1995, and seven years of follow-up. About 1 in 4 people in the study had the metabolic syndrome.
What they found: People with the metabolic syndrome or some of its symptoms had higher levels of C-reactive protein. Women had higher CRP levels than men with similar symptoms. Having high CRP or metabolic syndrome at the early-'90s exam increased the risk of having a "cardiovascular disease event"including heart attack, stroke, angina, and heart failure.
What the study means to you: Somehow, the metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and inflammation are probably related. Figuring out how they're related is a whole different problem . . . although one possible link is the pro-inflammatory molecules produced by fat tissue. Which suggests one way to improve things: having less fat.
Caveats: CRP was only measured once for each person. Also, they excluded people who had diabetes or cardiovascular disease at the time of the early-'90s exam.
Find out more: Read about the Framingham Offspring Study.
The American Heart Association explains the metabolic syndrome.
The immune system is complicated enough to make grown med students weep, so read about it at your own risk at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000821.htm (C-reactive protein isn't mentioned in this article, but it's part of the inflammatory response; read more about CRP at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003356.htm).
Read the article: Rutter, M.K. et al. "C-Reactive Protein, the Metabolic Syndrome, and Prediction of Cardiovascular Events in the Framingham Offspring Study." Circulation. July 27, 2004, Vol. 110, pp. 380385.
Abstract online: http://circ.ahajournals.org