Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 18, 2023
Chronic inflammation is a hot topic in health and wellness circles, with many researchers exploring its role in various diseases. Recent research suggests it may play a role in the development and progression of obesity. But, does inflammation cause weight gain?
In this article, we will delve into the link between chronic inflammation and weight gain, and explore the mechanisms behind this relationship, as well as how to handle it.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is a prolonged and persistent immune response that occurs when the body’s immune system fails to eliminate a perceived threat or when it mistakenly targets healthy tissues.
Unlike acute inflammation, which is a short-term, localized reaction to injury or infection, chronic inflammation can last for months or even years.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can be caused by various factors. Here’s a list of some common causes of inflammation and a brief description of each:
- Persistent infections: Long-lasting bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can cause the immune system to remain active, leading to chronic inflammation.
- Autoimmune disorders: In these conditions, the immune system mistakenly targets healthy tissues as if they were foreign invaders.
- Inflammatory lifestyle factors: Poor diet (high in sugar, processed foods, and unhealthy fats), lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic stress can all contribute to low-grade systemic inflammation.
- Obesity: Excess body fat, particularly visceral fat (the fat surrounding internal organs), can produce inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which contribute to systemic inflammation.
- Environmental factors: Long-term exposure to environmental pollutants, allergens, or irritants can cause chronic inflammation.
- Genetic predisposition: Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to a heightened inflammatory response or an increased risk of developing autoimmune disorders.
- Age: As people age, the body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response may decline, leading to a higher risk of chronic inflammation and age-related diseases.
These factors can interact with each other, and multiple factors may contribute to chronic inflammation in a given individual.
Signs of Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation can manifest in various ways, with signs and symptoms that may be subtle or more pronounced, depending on the individual and the underlying cause. Here are some common signs of chronic inflammation:
- Persistent pain: Chronic inflammation can cause ongoing pain in the affected areas, such as joints or muscles, which may be constant or intermittent.
- Fatigue: Chronic inflammation can lead to feelings of constant tiredness or exhaustion, even with adequate rest, as the body diverts energy to fight the ongoing inflammatory response.
- Low-grade fever: The body’s immune response may cause a low-grade fever, which is a mild but persistent increase in body temperature.
- Sleep disturbances: Inflammation can affect sleep quality and cause insomnia or other sleep disorders, leading to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested upon waking.
- Skin issues: Chronic inflammation can express itself through various inflammatory skin conditions, such as rashes, eczema, or psoriasis, which may be persistent or recurrent.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: Inflammatory bowel diseases or food sensitivities can lead to chronic inflammation, causing symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Mood disorders: Chronic inflammation has been linked to depression and anxiety, as it may affect neurotransmitter production and function in the brain.
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight: Inflammation can impact metabolism and hormone regulation, making it harder to lose weight or causing unexplained weight gain (more on this momentarily).
- Frequent infections: A persistent state of inflammation can weaken the immune system, leading to an increased susceptibility to infections.
These signs can vary significantly among individuals and may be indicative of other health issues as well.
How Chronic Inflammation Causes Weight Gain
Chronic inflammation is not a direct cause of obesity, but it can contribute to the development and persistence of obesity through several mechanisms. The relationship between inflammation and obesity is complex and bidirectional, with obesity itself promoting inflammation in the body.
Here are some ways in which chronic inflammation may be linked to obesity:
1. Alters Gut Microbiome
Chronic inflammation can disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, leading to dysbiosis. This imbalance can impair digestion, nutrient absorption, and the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help regulate energy balance. Dysbiosis can also impact the gut-brain axis, influencing appetite regulation and potentially leading to weight gain or obesity.
2. Causes Insulin Resistance
Inflammation can interfere with insulin signaling, leading to insulin resistance. This makes it more difficult for cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream, resulting in higher blood sugar levels and promoting fat storage. Insulin resistance can also reduce the rate at which the body burns fat for energy, further contributing to weight gain or obesity.
3. Leads to Hormonal Imbalances
Chronic inflammation can disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate appetite and energy expenditure, such as leptin, ghrelin, and thyroid hormones. Disruptions in these signaling pathways can lead to increased hunger, reduced feelings of fullness, and a propensity to overeat, all of which can contribute to weight gain or obesity.
4. Slows Metabolism
Chronic inflammation can impair the function of mitochondria, the energy-producing structures within cells. Reduced mitochondrial function can lead to a decreased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source for cellular processes. This can slow down the metabolic rate and contribute to weight gain or obesity.
Additionally, inflammation can lead to muscle protein breakdown and reduced muscle mass. Since muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, a decrease in muscle mass can slow down the metabolic rate, making it more difficult to maintain or lose weight, and ultimately contributing to weight gain or obesity.
5. Induces Fat Cell Dysfunction
Chronic inflammation can impair the normal functioning of adipose tissue (fat cells). Dysfunctional fat cells may release more fatty acids into the bloodstream, contributing to insulin resistance, and producing inflammatory cytokines, further promoting weight gain or obesity.
Health Risks of Obesity
Obesity is associated with numerous health risks, including:
- Type 2 diabetes: Obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as it can cause insulin resistance, which makes it harder for the body to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Cardiovascular disease: Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Respiratory problems: People who are obese are more likely to develop respiratory problems such as sleep apnea, asthma, and shortness of breath.
- Joint problems: The excess weight puts extra pressure on the joints, which can lead to joint pain, osteoarthritis, and other joint problems.
- Cancer: Obesity is linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, prostate, and endometrial cancer.
- Mental health problems: Obesity can also affect mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
- Digestive problems: People who are obese are at a higher risk of developing digestive problems such as gallstones, liver disease, and acid reflux.
Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of these health problems.
How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation Naturally
Several natural remedies for inflammation can help keep your body’s inflammatory response at bay. This can potentially quell the feedback loop between chronic inflammation and weight gain. Some of the most effective strategies to reduce inflammation are:
- Reduce intake of inflammatory foods: Consuming foods that are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated or trans fats can promote inflammation in the body. By limiting or avoiding these inflammatory foods, you can reduce inflammation.
- Start an anti-inflammatory diet: An anti-inflammatory diet typically includes whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like those found in nuts and fatty fish.
- Control lifestyle factors: By managing stress, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular physical activity, you can help reduce inflammation.
- Take dietary supplements: Certain herbs and spices, such as ginger, curcumin, and black pepper, have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation in the body.
When it comes to natural supplements for inflammation, it can be difficult to determine which ones work. Here are three of the most researched products for inflammation reduction and natural pain relief:
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin works by blocking the activity of enzymes that promote inflammation and by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
Apple cider vinegar (ACV), everyone’s favorite weight loss aid, reduces inflammation by promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Additionally, ACV contains acetic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body due to the presence of anthocyanins and other flavonoids. These compounds help to reduce the production of cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Inflammation and Weight Gain: Final Thoughts
Can inflammation cause weight gain? The answer is yes, indirectly. Chronic inflammation causes weight gain and contributes to the development of obesity. The persistent activation of the immune system and release of inflammatory mediators can disrupt metabolic processes and promote the storage of fat.
By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, individuals may be able to reduce inflammation and improve their overall health, potentially leading to weight loss and decreased risk of obesity-related conditions. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized recommendations and to address any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to inflammation and weight gain.