A Surprising Connection Between Weight Gain and Inflammation
Weight loss can be a frustrating topic. Extreme diets and low calorie torture can’t be maintained and it isn’t just because you don’t have self-restraint.
A weight loss program won’t be successful if the focus is just about calorie reduction and exercise because so many other factors come into play. One of the most important is the relationship between obesity and chronic inflammation. How does inflammation contribute to obesity, and how does that knowledge contribute to a better weight loss plan?
There are likely two factors contributing to the obesity/ inflammation cycle. Fat cells are known to generate inflammatory chemical messengers (called cytokines), and those chemicals eventually trigger a reaction for cells to stop listening to two useful messengers: insulin and leptin. When cells become resistant to insulin and leptin, watch out, because the weight will start piling on!
The role of insulin is to shuttle glucose to tissue cells to store for use as energy. When cells’ insulin receptors are resistant to insulin, they ignore the delivery, and the glucose remains in the blood longer. Blood glucose needs to stay within a narrow range, so eventually it needs to go somewhere. Ultimately it gets converted into fatty acids and stored as fat instead of being used as energy. So insulin resistance will always cause weight gain because the body can’t utilize glucose properly.
Another thing that inflammation does is cause leptin resistance. Leptin is the chemical that tells the brain that we had enough to eat and we are full. People with fully functioning leptin recpetors have fairly natural weight control, so they just stop eating when full. In the case of leptin resistance, it works just like insulin resistance. The leptin goes to deliver its message to stop eating, but cells ignore it, so you just keep eating.
Insulin resistance will always cause weight gain because the body can’t utilize glucose properly and so it converts it to fatty acids that get stored in fat cells. In the case of leptin, if cells are resistant to it, they will fail to hear the message that the body is satiated, so the person remains hungry and continues to consume excess calories.
Science has sufficiently proven that fat cells do cause inflammation, but it appears there is also a possibility that inflammation itself triggers weight gain, because inflammation has been shown to effect a specific part of the brain (the hypothalamus), causing it to become insulin and leptin resistant. In either case, inflammation, whether generated from fat cells, junk food, stress, poor sleep, candida, or toxin overload, causes insulin and leptin resistance.
Whether fat causes inflammation or inflammation causes fat, the key factor that needs to be addressed in a weight loss program is to decrease inflammation in order to increase cells sensitivity to insulin and leptin. This requires eliminating foods that are inflammatory, such as sugar and saturated fats, and foods to which a person is allergic. The focus must be on a whole foods diet chock full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are all naturally anti-inflammatory.
Focusing on “low-fat” and “diet” processed foods may lower the calorie count, but these foods are typically pro-inflammatory, which explains why they don’t aid weight loss. They also aren’t satiating, and some of the chemicals in these foods actually trigger hunger signals.
In addition to switching to a whole foods based diet, anti-inflammatory supplements should be added. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and krill oil should be at the top of the list, as well as magnesium, curcumin and ginger.
In the long term, eating a whole foods-based diet and taking anti-inflammatory supplements is a sustainable and healthy way to maintain optimal weight, and helps to resolve related health issues without medication.
Endocrinology, April 2011, 152(4).
About the author
Dr. Jen is a naturopathic doctor who is deeply committed to health education and believes that by sharing the benefits of natural medicine, people will be empowered to take control of their health.