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Understanding hsCRP and how it impacts mental health

fish on a plate to explain anti-inflammatory approach to treating depression using hsCRP as a guide

Understanding hsCRP and How It Impacts Mental Health

Elevated levels of hsCRP not only signal potential cardiovascular risks but also indicate possible links to psychiatric conditions. Several studies have explored the relationship between hsCRP levels and mood disorders, such as depression. This is a lab I order frequently in my clinic to help guide treatment.

The Interplay between hsCRP and Depression

Depression, one of the most common mental health disorders, has been repeatedly linked to inflammation. Elevated hsCRP levels in individuals with depression hint at a possible inflammatory component, suggesting that targeting inflammation could be a therapeutic strategy. Interestingly, hsCRP levels can also guide antidepressant medication choices:

  • Informed Medication Choices: Some studies, including Uher, R. et al. (Am J Psychiatry 2014), indicate that individuals with a CRP level >1 may respond more favorably to nortriptyline, while those with a CRP <1 might find escitalopram more effective. Another study, CO-MED, suggested that those with CRP >1 could benefit more from a combination of bupropion and an SSRI.

  • Dopaminergic Properties and CRP: Inflammation tends to reduce dopamine levels in the brain. It's postulated that patients with elevated CRP levels might respond better to medications with catecholamine/dopaminergic properties. This is further supported by the observation that obesity, a major driver of inflammation, might be a reason medications like Wellbutrin work better for obese individuals.

  • L-Methylfolate (L-MF) as an Adjunctive Therapy: L-MF, with its anti-inflammatory properties, showed potential as an add-on treatment for those who didn't respond to SSRIs. Research revealed that L-MF was particularly effective in individuals with heightened inflammation (reflected by elevated CRP levels) and obesity. For these patients, a daily dose of L-MF 15 mg is often recommended. This aligns with the study titled "A Review of L-Methylfolate as Adjunctive Therapy in the Treatment of Major Depression."

  • SSRIs and Inflammation: It's interesting to note that SSRIs might be more effective in individuals with lower inflammation levels and who are leaner.

Further research has shown that anti-inflammatory treatments, ranging from specific anti-inflammatory medications, a Mediterranean-focused diet, to natural remedies like Omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin, might help alleviate symptoms.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fats, commonly found in fish oil, have been studied for their potential anti-inflammatory and antidepressant effects. Regular intake might help reduce inflammation, potentially benefitting individuals with mood disorders.

  • Curcumin: This natural compound from the well-known spice, turmeric, exhibits potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Preliminary studies have shown curcumin might play a role in mitigating depressive symptoms, potentially linked to its effect on reducing inflammation.

hsCRP and Other Mental Health Conditions

While depression remains a primary focus, other psychiatric conditions have been studied in the context of hsCRP:

  • Anxiety: Elevated hsCRP levels have been observed in some patients with anxiety disorders. The link between inflammation and anxiety, while still being explored, could pave the way for new therapeutic strategies.

  • Schizophrenia: Some studies suggest that individuals with schizophrenia might exhibit increased inflammatory markers, including hsCRP. However, the exact relationship and its clinical implications remain an area of active research.

  • Bipolar Disorder: Inflammatory processes might play a role in bipolar disorder. Elevated hsCRP levels in some bipolar patients have prompted consideration of anti-inflammatory treatments as adjunctive therapies.

Clinical Pearls
CRP vs. hsCRP: The Nuances

While both C-reactive protein (CRP) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) are markers of inflammation, their applications differ. The hsCRP test is more sensitive, designed to detect low-level inflammation, making it a crucial tool in assessing cardiovascular health risk and helpful for personalizing depression treatment.

Other Factors That Can Cause Elevated hsCRP Levels

Remember that hsCRP is non-specific so a patient's presentation and these factors need to be taken into consideration:

  1. Endurance Exercise: After intense physical activity, especially prolonged endurance exercise like marathons, hsCRP levels can be transiently elevated. This is a normal response to muscle tissue damage and repair. Peak concentrations of hsCRP are often observed 24 to 48 hours post-exercise.

  2. Infections: Both viral and bacterial infections can cause an increase in hsCRP levels as the body mounts an inflammatory response.

  3. Inflammatory Conditions: Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease, often result in elevated hsCRP.

  4. Smoking: Chronic smoking is inflammatory and can elevate hsCRP.

  5. Surgery or Trauma: Any form of significant tissue injury can lead to a temporary rise in hsCRP as part of the inflammatory response.

  6. Certain Medications: Some medications, like oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, can increase hsCRP levels.

  7. Cancer: Certain types of cancers can cause an increase in hsCRP due to the body's inflammatory response to the tumor.

  8. Sleep Disorders: Conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, where inflammation can be a component, might be associated with elevated hsCRP.

  9. Age: hsCRP levels can naturally increase with age.

  10. Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions where the body mistakenly attacks its own cells, such as in lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to inflammation and elevated hsCRP.

Concluding Thoughts The interconnection between hsCRP, mental health, and cardiovascular health expands our understanding of psychiatric conditions and offers newer therapeutic avenues. However, every individual's health journey is unique, necessitating personalized medical advice.

If you're interested in becoming a patient at Driftless Integrative Psychiatry and working with Dr. Burger for a personalized, holistic, and evidence-informed approach to mental health, you can learn more here.


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