Is C-Reactive Protein Secretly Making You Gain Weight?

Women's Health |

By K Aleisha Fetters, strength and conditioning specialist; image from Getty

Here’s what this small-but-mighty molecule actually means for your health…

If you’ve ever gotten the results of your bloodwork back and been stumped by your levels of something called c-reactive protein, or CRP, you’re not alone. Actually, this substance is frequently checked by doctors via blood test to predict a person’s risk of heart disease or cancer—but it can also shed some light on why you might be packing on extra kilos. Hello belly fat!

Here, we’ve asked experts to break down what’s to blame for c-reactive protein in your blood, what it says about your weight, and what you can do to fight back.

What Is C-Reactive Protein?

When your body undergoes periods of excessive inflammation (aka cellular injury) caused by stress, lack of sleep and eating processed foods, your liver ramps up its production of c-reactive protein, a substance that floats through your bloodstream helping your immune system clear dead cells from your body, explains Dr Angela Fitch, a member of the US Obesity Medicine Association board of trustees.

That makes it an excellent marker of inflammation, which, sorry to break it to you, is intricately linked to weight gain and obesity. And though high c-reactive protein levels aren’t actually the problem, they are a sign that inflammation is running amok in your bod and that weight gain might be soon to follow.

READ MORE: The Truth About Chronic Inflammation – And What It Means For Your Health

“When there’s excess inflammation, the body is going to spend much of its time and resources trying to deal with that,” Fitch says. “In doing so, the body’s protective mechanisms can slow metabolism, increase the tendency to store kilojoules as fat and ramp up your appetite.” The result is weight gain, which, unfortunately, only makes matters worse. “When we have excess fat, that in itself is inflammatory,” she says. “Excess body fat produces inflammatory compounds, which can further encourage the body to store fat and produce even more inflammatory compounds.”

Basically, inflammation is a sucky cycle that ends in more weight gain, according to one review published in the journal Mediators of Inflammation. Not surprisingly, the study found a strong link between c-reactive protein and obesity, especially in women.

Get Your C-Reactive Protein (and Inflammation) Levels in Check

Right now, experts don’t recommend regularly getting your c-reactive protein levels checked. While testing only requires a simple blood draw, the test is typically reserved for research purposes—such as investigating the link between inflammation and weight gain, immunity or cardiovascular disease.

That’s because, typically, c-reactive protein level results don’t lead to that much of an “aha” moment. “Unfortunately, telling people they have a high BMI or cholesterol levels doesn’t keep them from eating NikNaks,” Fitch says. “So would telling them that they have high c-reactive protein levels change anything?” #toughlove

Plus, c-reactive protein blood tests don’t actually identify the root cause of inflammation, explains dietitian Lori Williams.

READ MORE: 6 Daily Habits That Are Just As Bad As Smoking

To figure out the cause of that inflammation, you’ve got to get real about your lifestyle and eating habits. Ask yourself: How’s my weight? What about my stress levels? Do I eat a plant-rich diet or operate off of processed foods? Do I exercise regularly? Do I get seven to nine hours of sleep per night? After answering those Qs, it should be pretty obvious whether or not your CRP levels are where they need to be—test or no test. It also gives you a pretty clear checklist of what you need to do reduce whatever chronic inflammation you do have.

Tackling these issues—as well as any existing conditions you’ve been procrastinating on—is the single best way to prevent inflammation and weight gain, no matter what your CRP levels are, Fitch says.

The bottom line: If you clean up your daily habits, you really don’t need to stress about your CRP levels. And weight loss? That’ll be practically automatic.

This is the best way to tell if you’re at a healthy weight. Plus: Try the 5-day healthy eating plan that’ll reboot your system.

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