Hidden Dangers of Inflammation: Understanding CRP Levels

Learn more about CRP's role as an inflammation marker, and how diet, alcohol, and exercise influence its levels.

Perrin Braun
By Perrin Braun
Lucia Gcingca
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Published January 30, 2024.

a man with his hands on his hip

What can influence how quickly your injuries heal, your susceptibility to the flu, and the health of your cardiovascular system? The answer lies in inflammation and its impact on C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. It's a key indicator of immune function and heart health.

Inflammation is intricately linked to factors like diet, exercise, and potentially alcohol, which might elevate CRP levels. [1] Understanding what constitutes a dangerous CRP level is especially vital as we age and for athletes striving for peak performance, given its role in health and recovery. [2]

Measuring inflammation

A protein in the blood that acts as a proxy for inflammation, called CRP, is one of the best inflammation indicators. Levels of CRP rise and fall in response to inflammation, so knowing your CRP measurement tells you a lot about what’s going on in your body.

CRP's predictive capability

Research has confirmed that CRP can predict future cardiovascular events in individuals with carotid stenosis, emphasizing its role in assessing cardiovascular risk. [1]

CRP changes its structure when inflammation occurs. These changes significantly impact how CRP functions, especially in the context of atherosclerotic plaques. [3, 4]

Risk assessment guidelines

The American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have set the following guidelines:

  • Below 1.0 mg/L: Low risk for heart problems.
  • 1.0 to 3.0 mg/L: Average risk for heart problems.
  • Above 3.0 mg/L: High risk for heart problems.

Note: Very high levels of CRP (more than 10 mg/L) can also indicate an impaired immune response or inflammatory disease. [5,6]

» Discover how inflammation is affecting your inner age

Analyzing CRP

Since CRP is found in your blood, the only way to get information about your levels is to analyze a blood sample through a service like InsideTracker. CRP is measured along with testosterone, white blood cell count, potassium, sodium, zinc, and chromium (in addition to the thirteen other biomarkers). It's also measured in the Ultimate Panel, along with many additional markers.

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Controlling CRP through diet

To manage inflammation effectively and keep CRP levels under control, it's important to avoid foods high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt, such as fast foods. It's more beneficial to focus on foods that are low on the glycemic index and rich in:

  • Antioxidants
  • Fiber
  • Calcium
  • Fish oils
  • Vitamins C and E
  • Mono-unsaturated fats

Research has linked diets abundant in these with lower CRP levels. [7, 8] This approach becomes pertinent in light of common concerns about how much CRP level is dangerous and the relationship between diet and inflammation.

» Seeking a natural remedy? Find out how turmeric and curcumin affect inflammation

Foods that help reduce inflammation

The following foods can help reduce inflammation:

  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Herbs and spices
  • Soy protein
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Black and green teas
  • Vinegar

These items align with the Mediterranean Diet, renowned for maintaining healthy CRP levels. A vegan diet, encompassing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, also reduces systemic inflammation, as reflected in CRP measurements. [9] » Check out key nutrients for vegetarians, vegans, and raw vegans

Daily diet goals

Aiming for at least six servings of fruits and vegetables daily goes beyond just influencing CRP levels; it contributes to overall health and wellness. Diversifying your diet with new types of fruits and vegetables through tools like InsideTracker’s Food Menu can be practical.

Alcohol’s effect on inflammation

The impact of alcohol on inflammation and CRP levels is complex. Moderate consumption, defined as no more than 2 glasses of wine, 1 pint of beer, or 4 oz. of liquor per session, can be more beneficial for lowering CRP levels than abstaining or excessive drinking.

» Inflammation and depression: How lifestyle choices make a difference

Intermittent fasting and inflammation

Intermittent fasting, a diet pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting, can impact your body's inflammation levels. Specifically, it can affect the levels of certain markers in your blood, like CRP, which are used to measure inflammation. [10] This highlights how not just the kind of foods you eat but also when and how often you eat them play a role in managing inflammation.

» Sick of your six small meals? Explore our InsideGide on intermittent fasting

Inflammation and athletes

The importance of CRP monitoring

Athletes should be particularly concerned with monitoring their levels of CRP since performance is so closely tied to their heart health. Understanding what constitutes a dangerous CRP level is crucial, as high CRP is often linked to increased inflammation and potential health risks.

Benefits of consistent exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation by 20-60% and to reduce white blood cell count (another marker for inflammation) during and after exercise. [11] This reduction in CRP and inflammation can also reduce the negative effects of certain lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption.

Risks of inconsistent exercise

For all you weekend warriors out there, engaging in intense but inconsistent exercise can:

  • Increase your white blood cell levels
  • Increase inflammation
  • Weaken your immune system

This is especially significant considering that lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption can further elevate CRP levels, adding to the inflammation caused by sporadic intense activities.

The impact of strenuous exercise

Prolonged strenuous exercise (i.e., running a marathon) can triple white blood cell levels! [12] Athletes who over-train or over-exert themselves during competitions can weaken their immune systems, making it more difficult to recover properly.

This is particularly concerning as high CRP levels, potentially exacerbated by factors like dehydration and certain dietary habits, can indicate a dangerous level of inflammation in the body.

Supplements: When diet and exercise aren’t enough

When you can’t control inflammation through diet and exercise alone, supplements can help. Vitamins C, D, and E have all been linked to promoting healthy levels of inflammation.

  • Vitamin C: Taking 1,000 mg daily may reduce your CRP levels by 25%. [13]
  • For athletes: Long-distance runners or triathletes can cut their risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections in half by taking 600 mg of vitamin C daily for 21 days before a competition.

Vitamin D and inflammation in women

According to researchers, those with adequate vitamin D levels in their blood were less likely to develop inflammation. Each 10ng/ml increase in serum vitamin D is associated with a 25% reduction of CRP. [14] So, make sure you soak up a few minutes of sunshine every day or consider taking a supplement to get your vitamin D fix.

Combating environmental stressors and embracing healthy habits

Environmental factors such as air pollution, second-hand smoke, and economic stress can all increase inflammation. While these are outside your control, there's also a lot you can do to make sure that inflammation doesn’t negatively affect your health, like:

  • Engage in moderate, regular exercise
  • Eat a diet that includes many of the foods listed above
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Make sure you get enough sleep (adults should aim for 7 – 9 hours)
  • Lose weight if your weight is currently outside of a healthy range

If you need help finding the most effective ways to lower your inflammation, consider signing up for InsideTracker’s Ultimate Plan. InsideTracker offers a platform with personalized recommendations based on blood biomarkers, genetics, and physiodata from fitness trackers to help you optimize your well-being.

InsideTracker doesn't diagnose or treat medical conditions. For any health concerns, visit a qualified healthcare professional.


[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17322087

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29517857

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29713320

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19520972

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31312858

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26089599

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25313576

[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20234030

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25360519

[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32947129

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28320745

[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19232816

[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32229693

[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26833068