C-Reactive Protein: A Marker That Signals A Menace

Inflammation anywhere means risk everywhere.

Charles W Martin By Charles W Martin, DDS
Founder, DentistryForDiabetics.com

In my column Links Between Diabetes & Gum Disease – The Inflammation Response, I talked about how what's going on in your mouth affects your diabetes management and how it's related to inflammation. Now let's talk about the marker in your blood that signals inflammation.

It's C-reactive Protein, usually referred to as CRP. It's a protein that's present in your blood plasma when your body senses inflammation. It's used by doctors as an inflammation marker, a way to tell that even though you may not know it and it may not be visible, somewhere your body is fighting inflammation.

In normal, healthy people CRP may not even show up in a blood test. But when the body starts fighting inflammation, it starts sending a variety of cytokines that carry different messages to cells in many locations. These messenger cells are sort of like the body's Paul Revere, riding from place to place to wake up the militia and spring them into action. Some of the messengers alert other cells, tell them that there's an emergency somewhere in the body and they need to respond to that threat. Other messengers tell the cells how to interact with another group of cells to fight the inflammation – giving the cells marching orders, sending them to the front, and telling them when and where to attack.

One messenger heads directly to your liver, sounding the alarm about the inflammation and telling it to crank up its production of C-reactive protein. We don't know all the details yet about why. We do know that CRP is pumped into the blood when the body experiences inflammation. Researchers are trying to discover if CRP has an active role in fighting inflammation and they're also trying to determine if CRP is more of a villain – a bad guy that contributes to some major health problems.

What causes the inflammation that rings all these alarm bells throughout the body? Well, gum disease, for one. The bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis flip every switch that the body has built into its inflammatory response mechanisms and turn on all its natural defenses.

Another inflammation trigger that can pump CRP into the bloodstream is of particular importance to people with diabetes. That's hyperglycemia – high blood sugar. Hyperglycemia is one of the well-established causes of atherogenesis, which is the process of forming plaques on the inner lining of the arteries. As the plaques pile up and spread across the arterial walls, they irritate the lining and cause inflammation. Even though it's not caused by bacteria or other organisms, inflammation is inflammation. It triggers the body's inflammatory response, and the whole cascade of adverse health events that go along with it.

If ever you needed another reason to make every effort to keep your blood sugar under control, this is it. Inflammation alone can worsen your gum disease. As the periodontitis becomes more serious, it can pile its inflammation on top of the atherogenesis. This whole process can compound the cycle even further, as well as worsen your diabetes.

For more information about dental care for people who have diabetes, visit http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com and Dr. Martin's blog, http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com/blog.

To learn more about the two-way connection between diabetes and gum disease, check out the other columns here on dLife or Dr. Martin's book, Don't Sugar Coat It.

Read Dr. Charles Martin's bio here.

Read more of Dr. Martin's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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