How inflammation leads to weight gain

When we think about weight loss, the most commonly recited formula that first pops into our mind is “calories in – calories out”. While the principle is simple (and true to a certain extent), there is a lot more nuance to nutrition than the calorific value of the food. 

If it were this easy, people wouldn’t suddenly gain weight as a result of switching medication, or simply aging, while maintaining the same diet and activity level as before. There are many more factors affecting our ability to lose weight, outside of the net amount of food we consume. The weight loss process can be affected by underlying health conditions, food allergies, eating disorders, chronic illnesses, physical and psychological stress and gut microbiome issues, among other things.

One of the prominents factors on your weight is inflammation. In his book The Inflammation Spectrum, Dr. Will Cole remarks that “Inflammation is at the core of most common health woes and exists on a continuum: from mild symptoms such as weight gain and fatigue on one end, to hormone imbalance and autoimmune conditions on the other.” [1]

The levels of inflammation in your body, whether in the gut or in the joints, do not stay the same all the time. Every single meal and drink affects the way your body feels. Everything you put in your body is either encouraging inflammation or counteracting it. Alterations in your gut health have a definite impact on inflammation levels and subsequently, weight fluctuations.

“The bacteria that are inside your GI tract can either suppress inflammation or activate inflammation, depending on what they are,” says Joel Linden, PhD, a professor in the division of inflammation biology at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in California. “That’s why there’s so much interest in using probiotics to try to influence the gut inflammatory response.”[2]

The number of inflammation markers in the gut is also a determining factor when it comes to nutrient absorption, which is another reason why the “calories in – calories out” mantra is not always accurate. Some people’s guts are more efficient at extracting nutrients from the food that passes through our digestive tract. 

What does that mean? Let’s say two people eat the same meal. A person with a more proficient metabolic rate would be able to digest the food faster, extract more calories and convert the contents into energy more efficiently.  

What we need to remember is that everybody has different reactions to different foods. What might help reduce inflammation and improve metabolism in one person, might cause a flare-up in someone with an intolerance or a chronic condition such as Crohn’s or IBS. 

Another thing to consider is the cyclical relationship between inflammation and body weight. Just as inflammation can cause weight gain, weight gain can trigger inflammation, closing the loop. Simply carrying excess weight can cause an inflammatory response within fat cells, so being overweight automatically puts you at a disadvantage. [3][4] Unfortunately, age is also a factor when it comes to inflammation in the adipose tissue. [5] Visceral fat, accumulating at the abdomen, has been shown to produce inflammatory markers, and increase a person’s risk for inflammation-based chronic diseases. [6] A staggering 70% of your immune cells reside in your intestines, which means overeating triggers the immune system which responds by generating excessive inflammation.

Similarly, inflammatory foods can cause significant changes in eating behaviour. Inflammation in the gut might affect the hypothalamus, the part of our brain responsible for hunger signals. When your hypothalamus is affected, the brain might not adequately respond to the way our body feels. One example of this is when you continue eating even when the stomach is full, simply because, well, that information hasn’t registered yet. Equally, if your hypothalamus is not functioning as intended, you might not feel hungry which is likely to affect your eating schedule. And if you think that forgetting to eat is good for weight loss, think again. If your body doesn’t have a consistent eating schedule, it might go into “survival mode”, essentially meaning that it holds onto every bit of adipose tissue because it doesn’t know when it will be fed next, and thinks it is best to rack up the fat deposits. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might feel constantly hungry and unable to satisfy that yearning.

As if that wasn’t enough, the bacteria in your gut can have a huge effect on increasing or reducing cravings, which can be very difficult to resist. And yes, you might be the lucky person craving fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt, but often the microbes in our gut feed off sugar, carbs or processed sodium-heavy foods. 

inflammation food

Managing your weight by figuring out what foods benefit your body can be a lengthy process. It takes a lot of trial and error until you find what really works for you. You may want to visit a nutritionist specializing in inflammation. As well as watching your food, you can take probiotics, designed to balance out the ratios of various bacteria living in your gut. Furthermore,  you can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your exposure to other factors putting you at risk of inflammation. Eastern techniques of deep breathing , meditation and cold exposure can help promote vitality 

reduce inflammation

Making changes to your diet is not guaranteed to result in astounding weight loss. Managing inflammation is going to make a difference, but it’s best to include an exercise regiment, as well as maintain a healthy sleeping schedule. By making healthy lifestyle choices, breathing and meditation you can decrease inflammation and lose excess weight, which will help you reverse the cycle of inflammation and weight gain.

alkaline diet

References:

  1. The Inflammation Spectrum: Find Your Food Triggers and Reset Your System by Dr Will Cole, 2019 –  https://drwillcole.com/the-inflammation-spectrum/
  2. Chronic Inflammation by La Jolla Institute – https://www.lji.org/news-events/news/post/chronic-inflammation/
  3. Being overweight causes hazardous inflammations by University of Oslo, 2014 – 
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140825084836.htm
  5. Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications by Mohammed S. Ellulu, Ismail Patimah, Huzwah Khaza’ai, Asmah Rahmat, and Yehia Abed, 2016 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/
  6. Adipose tissue inflammation in aging by Theresa Mau and Raymond Yung, 2017 – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320481568_Adipose_tissue_inflammation_in_agingVisceral Adipose Tissue and Atherosclerosis by Miina K Ohman, Andrew P Wright, Kevin J Wickenheiser, Wei Luo and Daniel T Eitzman, 2009 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19356000/

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