Functional medicine practitioners often use functional lab tests to uncover markers of inflammation. These markers are used to assess the level of chronic inflammation in a patient – something that is not as commonly used in traditional medical testing for the prevention of chronic disease. It is important to use inflammatory markers to help predict the risk of health issues leading to chronic disease so that appropriate diet and lifestyle interventions can be recommended.
The most common markers of inflammation in blood tests are C-reactive protein (CRP), which measures the amount of proteins in the blood; white blood cell count, which is an indication of infection or immune system activity; and fibrinogen, which helps your body form blood clots. Other inflammatory markers include homocysteine, interleukins, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), serum amyloid A (SAA), and uric acid levels as well as calprotectin.
Inflammatory markers provide insight into the health of a patient, as they can indicate underlying inflammation. An elevated CRP level, for example, can point to systemic inflammation or an infection. Elevated white blood cell count can indicate bacterial infections or autoimmune disorders. High fibrinogen levels can point to thrombotic events like stroke and heart attack.
What are some chronic health issues that commonly elevate inflammatory markers?
- Arthritis-Both autoimmune arthritis conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA) are conditions of inflammation. In one study of RA patients had significantly higher levels of CRP as well as other markers including Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF-α) and IL-10 compared to healthy controls. 1
- Obesity-Measures of body fat have been correlated with inflammatory markers, such as CRP and others. However, more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between inflammatory markers and obesity.2 It is also known that obesity leads to overall inflammation and increased risk of other inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Dysbiosis-Overgrowth of normal or infectious microbes/pathogens in the gut. A stool specimen can detect inflammation in the intestines through an inflammatory marker called, calprotectin. Calprotectin is a protein released by a white blood cell, called a neutrophil, that is released when there is inflammation in the GI tract.
- Chronic Infections-Viral and post-viral infections have been shown to result in low-grade inflammation and an increase in inflammatory markers.3–5
- Cardiovascular Disease-Homocysteine is often elevated in risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis along with other inflammatory markers. Elevated homocysteine, IL-6, TNF-alpha, and CRP were found to be associated with a greater number of diseased arteries.6
- GI inflammatory diseases such as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s Disease.
- Mood Disorders-Stress, hormonal issues, and immune issues can lead to metabolic issues and subsequent mood disorders. The study and use of inflammatory biomarkers to identify and help target treatment for those suffering from mood disorders shows promise and more research is needed.7
- Deficiency–Magnesium deficiency is commonly associated with elevations in CRP. Magnesium is responsible for many chemical reactions in our body, and many people are deficient. Magnesium deficiency is a common risk factor for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes.8
By measuring markers of inflammation, functional medicine practitioners are able to uncover deeper insight into the individual’s health status to then create targeted treatment plans that address the root cause of the health issues and not just the symptoms. While these markers are sometimes used by traditional providers, they are more commonly used for the prevention of disease in functional, whole-body medicine approaches.
While this is not a comprehensive review of inflammatory markers, by understanding more about these markers of inflammation and how functional medicine practitioners use them, individuals may be better positioned to take control of their own health and seek the treatments that best suit them.
1. Shrivastava AK, Singh HV, Raizada A, et al. Inflammatory markers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015;43(1):81-87. doi:10.1016/j.aller.2013.11.003
2. Khanna D, Khanna S, Khanna P, Kahar P, Patel BM. Obesity: A Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation and Its Markers. Cureus. Published online February 28, 2022. doi:10.7759/cureus.22711
3. Maamar M, Artime A, Pariente E, et al. Post-COVID-19 syndrome, low-grade inflammation and inflammatory markers: a cross-sectional study. Curr Med Res Opin. 2022;38(6). doi:10.1080/03007995.2022.2042991
4. Vinhaes CL, Cruz LAB, Menezes RC, et al. Chronic hepatitis B infection is associated with increased molecular degree of inflammatory perturbation in peripheral blood. Viruses. 2020;12(8). doi:10.3390/v12080864
5. Fevang B, Wyller VBB, Mollnes TE, et al. Lasting Immunological Imprint of Primary Epstein-Barr Virus Infection With Associations to Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation and Fatigue. Front Immunol. 2021;12. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2021.715102
6. Oudi M El, Aouni Z, Mazigh C, et al. Homocysteine and markers of inflammation in acute coronary syndrome. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2010;15(2).
7. Mucci F, Marazziti D, Vecchia A Della, et al. State-of-the-art: Inflammatory and metabolic markers in mood disorders. Life. 2020;10(6). doi:10.3390/life10060082
8. Nielsen FH. Magnesium deficiency and increased inflammation: Current perspectives. J Inflamm Res. 2018;11. doi:10.2147/JIR.S136742
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.