Collectively, diseases related to chronic inflammation account for 50% of deaths worldwide. The relation between obesity, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome is an interconnected web that is leading researchers to reevaluate how we approach the question of weight.
Obesity is linked to
Type 2 diabetes
Systematic Inflammation (SCI) can lead to several diseases
Metaflammation, the metabolic inflammatory state associated with obesity, directly contributes to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. The condition is defined by low-grade chronic inflammation in metabolic tissues, including
Adipose (fat) cells
Weight loss and calorie restriction have been shown to decrease inflammation and increase insulin sensitivity in people who have been medically advised to lose excess weight.
Systemic inflammation increases your risk for metabolic syndromes
Hyperglycemia (an excess of sugars in the blood)
Dyslipidemia (an excess of fats in the blood)
Systematic inflammation also increases your chances of developing
Type 2 diabetes
You may have noticed that all of these conditions are likely to make losing weight more difficult. Obesity is often part of a difficult cycle, but breaking this cycle is not impossible. Understanding the link between inflammation and obesity can also be a way of arriving at a new approach to health and weight loss.
How obesity drives inflammation
The discovery of systematic inflammation as an important health factor is fairly recent, and researchers are still working to understand the different mechanisms and implications. Exactly how obesity triggers inflammation is uncertain, but the process of inflammation seems to be an immune response.
Inflammation induced by obesity represents a focused and rapid response to a site of injury or infection by the innate immune system, which is responsible for fighting new infections. However, unlike the defensive inflammatory response that fights off an infection, the inflammation marked by obesity does not resolve and, without intervention, can become chronic.
In this case, specialized metabolic cells (adipose or fat cells) maintain the injury and begin the inflammatory process—disrupting metabolic homeostasis:
The immune system recognizes the injury and sends an array of inflammatory cytokines.
These cytokines travel to adipose cells as well as the liver, pancreas, and sometimes the brain and muscle tissues.
Additional immune cells infiltrate metabolic tissues, such as natural killer cells (NT) and macrophages.
Changes appear in the T cell population of adipose cells. There appears to be a decrease in regulatory T cells, which favors further immune activation.
There is an association between increased weight gain and increased inflammation. More weight can mean more inflammation. However, reducing excess weight also tends to mean less inflammation.
Gut inflammation may also be a contributing factor and can lead to weight gain. For this reason, many dietary interventions are turning their attention to pre- and probiotics. Eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh vegetables is also important for gut health.
Breaking the cycle of obesity and inflammation is difficult, but not impossible. An excess of weight often equals more inflammation. It also can cause a cascade of hormonal adaptations that disrupt your body’s hunger signaling. Felicia Stoler, a doctor of clinical nutrition and registered dietician, says, “I'm always going to advocate for a balanced diet and exercise. However, I think prevention is best."
Inflammation knocks the body out of balance. A healthy and balanced lifestyle is key to returning the body back to health and equilibrium.
Whether or not certain foods reduce inflammation can depend on the person and the full dietary approach. We tend to eat in patterns, and an imbalanced and heavily processed diet is often inflammatory. However, certain foods do seem to decrease inflammation. Omega-3 and omega-6 can decrease inflammation by correcting the imbalance of lipids in the body. Certain other foods may also decrease inflammation due to polyphenols.
Foods that fight inflammation
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
Foods that may increase inflammation
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
French fries and other fried foods
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Treating obesity like any other chronic medical condition
When obesity affects health, it can be considered a chronic medical condition, and it can be most effective to treat it that way. Exercise and a balanced diet made of whole, unprocessed foods can be part of the prescription to prevent many diseases. The important thing is that daily behaviors that start small can create lasting positive changes over time.
Medically advised weight loss is difficult, particularly when other endocrine condititions are in play. Here are a few strategies you can do to help yourself succeed:
Get social. Walk with a friend, or join an exercise class. Go for a hike outside.
Surround yourself with supporters for your weight loss journey and health goals.
Eating more plant-based foods can help decrease inflammation and increase your intake of nutrients, without increasing your calorie intake.
Focus on adding color to your plate from fruits and vegetables as a way of getting a variety of nutrients and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Make movement part of your daily life. Exercise doesn’t have to only happen at the gym. Park further from the grocery store. Take the stairs. Plant a garden.
Sleep. Inadequate sleep quality and quantity can stress your system and have been shown to increase weight gain and inflammation
Find your Zen. Excess stress hormones have been linked to both weight gain and inflammation. Having a mindfulness practice, doing yoga, or meditating can help to keep your hormones in check.
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