What to know about inflammation and obesity—and how to combat it

What to know about inflammation and obesity—and how to combat it

What to know about inflammation and obesity—and how to combat it

Sometimes acute inflammation can transition into low-grade systemic chronic inflammation, or SCI—a state of constant inflammation. SCI ups the risk for most major diseases. Here's how it happens and what you can do about it.

The Found Team
Last updated:
October 31, 2022
5 min read
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Remember the last time you got bitten by a bug, had a cold, or twisted your ankle? Things get swollen, red, and start to hurt. (Ouch!) This acute inflammation is your body’s immediate, natural immune response in action. It helps protect and heal you. (Aren’t our bodies freaking amazing?!) 

When your body senses a threat—say, an infection, toxin, or injury— it fights back and repairs itself as quickly as possible. It sends out immune cells, blood vessels dilate, and blood flow increases. 

Normally, this immune response lasts only up to a few days, depending on the injury. But sometimes acute inflammation can transition into low-grade systemic chronic inflammation, or SCI—a state of constant inflammation. SCI ups the risk for most major diseases and can be seen in people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It’s a leading cause of disability and is attributed to 50% of all deaths. In other words: Do. Not. Want.

So let’s learn exactly how it happens and what to do about it.

The invisible enemy

Inflammation can be widespread and complex, and there are still many unknowns. Science has shown that SCI can compromise your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. It may lead to significant alterations in tissues, organs, and normal cell function. And it’s strongly linked to the onset—or development of—metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, all common comorbidities associated with obesity.

The vicious cycle of inflammation and obesity

Excess weight and inflammation have a tight-knit relationship. They create a cycle and feed off of each other—typically, when one goes up, so does the other. How so? It seems that excess fat triggers an immune-inflammatory response in the body because  it’s treated as a type of threat. Fat stores send out inflammatory signals, specifically tumor necrosis factor α and the immune protein interleukin 6 (IL-6). This results in a reduction of adiponectin—a hormone known for its effect on insulin sensitivity and anti-inflammation. Low levels have been linked to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

And that’s not all. To store excess fat, individual fat cells (adipocytes) get bigger, which may reduce blood supply. Result: Since blood carries oxygen, low blood flow also means reduced oxygen levels—which may cause a domino effect and trigger an inflammatory response.

Plus, when fatty acids accumulate, it can trigger inflammation, causing interleukin 6 (IL-6) to be released. High levels of this protein prompt your liver to make C-reactive protein (CRP). And that’s a big deal because high amounts of CRP are associated with more health risks—think heart attacks, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and cancer. In addition, current research shows that chronically elevated CRP levels are associated with increased body weight. Can you visualize the cycle in action? Excess weight leads to inflammation; inflammation leads to weight gain. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

How do you tamp down inflammation?

Follow these guidelines to help prevent and reduce chronic inflammation.

  1. Strive to reach a healthy weight
    Because excess weight can trigger an inflammatory response, losing some pounds could help reduce chronic inflammation. Pat yourself on the back because we know you’re already on your weight care journey! 
  2. Opt for a less Westernized diet and a more Mediterranean style one
    A diet of ultra-processed foods, added sugars, sodium, and some saturated fats (commonly found in American diets) is associated with higher levels of inflammation. This type of diet can also disrupt your gut health and has been shown to promote weight gain over time. (Remember the weight-inflammation cycle?)
    The good news is that the reverse is also true: Eating a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole foods—fruits, veggies, lean protein (think fish), healthy fats, nuts, beans, legumes, and whole grains—may reduce inflammation. Berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, onion, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables (yay, spinach and kale!)  are especially beneficial because they contain polyphenols, antioxidants that your body uses to fight inflammation. Nuts, fatty fish, avocados, and other sources that are high in omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties. 
  3. Move your body
    Lack of exercise promotes inflammation. So by moving your body, you not only reduce your current levels but also stave off future inflammation. Yes—two for one! Find ways you like to move, and remember that five minutes here and there add up. If you’re dealing with painful joints or other injuries, talk to your doctor about trying gentle, low-intensity activities like stretching, chair yoga, biking, or swimming. 
  4. Rest and de-stress
    During sleep, your body recovers and regenerates. That’s why it’s super important to get at least seven to eight hours of solid sleep each night. Now for the de-stress part. It’s also good to find ways to chill out (cue: bubble bath) because stress and sleep disorders are linked with more inflammation.
  5. Limit smoking and alcohol consumption
    Smoking causes the release of molecules that lead to increased inflammation, and alcohol interferes with your gut microbiome and liver and can lead to SCI. Learn how to enjoy drinking and still prioritize your health here
  6. Detect it early
    Pay attention to symptoms in your body that feel off. Do you have body aches, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, GI distress, frequent infections, or significant weight shifts? If so, talk to your doctor about inflammation and see if it’s worth getting tested. A simple blood test can measure your c-reactive protein levels (CRPs) to determine if there’s inflammation.

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Published date:
October 31, 2022
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team


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