Reports of the predictive value of minor elevation of serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels (between 3 and 10 mg/L) for atherosclerotic events have generated considerable interest, as well as a degree of controversy and confusion. CRP concentrations in this range are found in about one third of the American population. To better understand the mechanisms underlying minor elevation of CRP, we have surveyed its reported associations with a variety of states and conditions. It has become clear that even minimal environmental irritants and inflammatory stimuli elicit a minor CRP response. Minor CRP elevation has been found associated with a number of genetic polymorphisms, with membership in different demographic and socioeconomic groups, with a variety of dietary patterns and with many medical conditions that are not apparently inflammatory. Finally, minor CRP elevation bears negative prognostic implications for many conditions, particularly age-related diseases, and predicts mortality in both diseased and apparently healthy individuals. In sum, minor CRP elevation is associated with a great many diverse conditions, some of which are, or may prove to be, causal. Many of these reported associations imply a mild degree of tissue stress or injury, suggesting the hypothesis that the presence of distressed cells, rather than a resulting inflammatory response, is commonly the stimulus for CRP production.