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A study from Johns Hopkins in the medical journal, Circulation, suggest that chronic inflammation can cause heart attacks in people on low-fat diets. A blood test called C-reactive protein (CRP) measures inflammation in the body. Many previous studies show that high blood CRP levels signify increased risk for a heart attack. This study shows that people with high blood levels of CRP may not benefit from low-fat, low-cholesterol diets.

Dr. Thomas Erlinger followed 100 subjects on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for 12 weeks. Those who had high blood levels of CRP had a much smaller reduction of total cholesterol and the bad LDL cholesterol levels. These high CRP people also suffered a greater increase in triglycerides. Those with low CRPs had a 10 percent drop in cholesterol and a 12 percent drop in the bad LDL cholesterol. Their triglycerides were not affected. Those with higher CRP (more than 2.37 mg/L), total and LDL cholesterol were lowered by only 3 percent each, while triglycerides rose by 19 percent.

This shows that people who suffer from inflammation are less likely to benefit from a low fat, low-cholesterol diet. It also may explain why some people benefit from low-fat diets, while others do not. Having a high CRP increases your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and high blood triglycerides. This may be a very important study. Eventually it may show that people with low CRPs and high cholesterol will benefit from a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. People with high CRPs may benefit most from a diet that is low in refined carbohydrates from flour and sugar.

Until we know more, I recommend that you get a CRP test, and if your blood levels of CRP are high, look for a hidden infection. Start with blood tests for Helicobacter (the germ that causes stomach ulcers) chlamydia, mycoplasma, and Lyme disease; and look for an infection anywhere in your body, such as gum inflammation or a urinary tract infection. If you have high cholesterol and an infection, treat it. If you have a high cholesterol and do not have an infection, try a diet low in refined carbohydrates and avoid bakery products, pastas, fruit juices and all foods or drinks with added sugars.

Erlinger, Thomas P. et al, "Inflammation Modifies the Effects of a Reduced Fat, Low Cholesterol Diet on Lipids: Results from the DASH-Sodium Trial," Circulation, July 15, 2003; Vol. 108, pages 150-154.

Checked 8/31/05

May 19th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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