You probably know your blood pressure, and whether your cholesterol is high, low, or normal. But what about your CRP? Short for C-reactive protein, CRP is an indicator of inflammation within the body—a condition that can contribute to a host of serious ills.

"Over time, chronic inflammation can do serious damage to healthy tissues," says Mark Liponis, MD, corporate medical director of Canyon Ranch and author of Ultra-Longevity: The Seven-Step Program for a Younger, Healthier You. "For one, it triggers a cascade of chemicals and processes that can lead to blood clots and accelerate the buildup of plaque in the arteries." According to the American Heart Association, people with high CRP are twice as likely to suffer cardiac arrest as those with low levels. "This makes CRP the most important cardiovascular risk factor we have for men and women over age 50—more indicative than cholesterol, blood pressure, age, family history, and whether you smoke," says Liponis.

However, because CRP testing is relatively new, it's not yet standard procedure at most doctors' offices. Ask for the simple blood test at your next physical. And don't do it just for your heart: A flood of research shows that elevated levels are linked to stroke, diabetes, colon cancer, arthritis, poor brain function, even Alzheimer's. Knowing your CRP—and bringing it down if it's high—is one of the best things you can do for your health.

CRP chart

Next: Are You at Risk for High CRP? 7 Factors to Watch For


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