Inflammation anywhere in the body increases levels of a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. Many scientists suspect slightly elevated CRP levels are a hint that low-level inflammation may be fueling atherosclerosis and raising the risk for a heart attack, reports the July issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.
"Right now, we can't say for certain that lowering CRP will reduce heart attack risk, but there are clues that it might," says Harvey Simon, M.D., editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch. Statin therapy, moderate alcohol consumption, and low-dose aspirin are all associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease, and studies find that they also lower CRP levels. And this year, two major studies found that CRP levels predict risk even when cholesterol-lowering statins bring LDL cholesterol to very low levels.
Research suggests that exercise can also reduce CRP levels, says the Harvard Men's Health Watch. In one study, moderate exercisers were 15% less likely than couch potatoes to have elevated CRP levels, and those who exercised vigorously were 47% less likely to have a high CRP level. As of 2005, 12 additional studies have reported that people who exercise regularly have lower CRP levels than their sedentary counterparts.