A Surprising Connection Between Weight Gain and Inflammation

weight loss diaryWeight 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).

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Dr. Jen Morganti

What do you want from your life and your health? Do you fear that if you don’t make some serious changes that your health will hold you back from living a full and rich life?

Obesity is one of the top reasons Americans struggle with health issues; it leads to coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and many other diseases. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) states that over one out of three adult Americans are classified as obese. But we have the power to change these statistics by revolutionizing our sedentary lifestyles and poor food choices. And this starts with you.

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Dr. Jen Morganti

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  1. Phil Hylemon, Ph.D. says

    Dr. Margareti: Nice article on inflammation and weight gain. No doubt that fat cells (adipocytes) produce proinflammtory cytokines that supress the insulin signaling (AKT) pathway in the liver and other cells in the body. However, I think another major source of proinflammatory cytokines is probably due to the increased permeability of the gut when one consumes a Western type deit high in fructose corn syrup. Fructose, unlike other sugars increases the permeability of the intestines to bacterial products such as lipopolysaccarides (LPS). LPS has been shown to increase on in the blood of folks on a Western type diet. This is probably due to bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel due to supression of anti-bacterial peptide secretion. It has been demonstrated that LPS appears in gut lipoproteins (cylomicrons) in individuals on a Westen diet. The LPS ends up in macrophage in liver were it stimulates the synthesis of proflammaory cytokines i.e. TNF alpha, IL-1 …etc. These are know to dysrupt both glucose and lipid metabolism.

  2. Hanif says

    I am just a layman but what does not jive is this. I observe diabetics tend to lose weight. This seems to conflict with your seemingly sensible hypothesis. Any explanation for this conundrum?

  3. Lori says

    Whole grains can be inflammatory, especially wheat. And saturated fat does not necessarily increase inflammation. This is an important article, but it’s also important to be very specific when it comes to recommended food choices.

  4. Anonymous says

    I agree with Lori that grains can be bad for some of us and it is usually not diagnosed as such since that reaction can mimic other problems.

    Good quality coconut oil used in moderation can be very healthful, too. Look on the web for more information.

    The oils that are particularly bad are the highly processed oils such as soy, corn, etc. with high Omega 6 content if there is anything left at all after all the heating, deodorizing and processing to make it last longer on a store shelf.

    Also be aware that most canola oil sold today is GMO since non-GMO seeds have been poluted and are next to impossible to find today.

  5. Abbs says

    Great – I’ve done a fair amount of reading on weight gain/loss, but haven’t come across leptin before. As this is would seem to be a massive factor in compulsive eating, and has potentially crucial implications for emotional factors involved, the leptin issue should be far more widely discussed. A sensible, useful article, thank you.

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