Background: Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQL) represent individuals' subjective assessment of their mental and physical well-being, and is highly predictive of future health. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a well-established marker of inflammation. Low-grade inflammation (LGI), defined as slightly increased CRP levels, is associated with increased risk of several diseases. LGI may reflect subclinical pathology, which could affect individual's subjective health assessment. This study aimed to examine whether LGI has an independent impact on self-reported health or rather is a mediator of a confounder in a large population of healthy individuals.
Methods: Plasma CRP levels were measured in 17,024 participants from the Danish Blood Donor Study (DBDS). All participants completed a standard questionnaire including smoking status, and the 12-item short-form health survey (SF-12), which is a widely used scale for HRQL. SF-12 is reported as a mental (MCS) and physical (PCS) score. The relationship between LGI (defined as a plasma CRP level between 3 mg/L and 10 mg/L) and MCS or PCS was explored by mediation analysis and adjusted multivariable linear regression analysis. Multiple imputation modelling was used to remedy missing values. The analyses were stratified according to sex and use of combined oral contraception (OC).
Results: In the study, 1,542 (10.3%) participants had LGI. PCS was associated with LGI in all strata, i.e. women using OC: RC = -0.36 points lower PCS in participants with LGI vs no LGI, CI: -0.94 to -0.19, women not using OC: RC = -0.63, CI: -1.05 to -0.21 and men: RC = -0.76, CI: -1.10 to -0.42. But LGI had no impact on MCS. Predictors of lower PCS included obesity, current smoking, and waist circumference in all strata. Physical activity in leisure time was the only factor positively associated with PCS. Age and physical activity in leisure time was associated with increased MCS in all strata whereas current smoking was the only strong predictor of a reduction in MCS. Only a small effect of smoking on PCS was mediated through LGI.
Conclusion: In this population of healthy individuals, LGI had independent impact on lower self-rated physical health score in HRQL in both sexes, but was not associated with self-rated mental health score. A small and significant effect of smoking on physical health score was mediated through LGI.