Inflammation and Overweight
Overweight, inflammation, and food allergies are intimately related. Inflammation causes our master weight control hormone, leptin, to be less effective, thus causing weight gain, and both food allergies and overweight cause inflammation. Some people with food allergies are thin because their allergies affect their digestive system and impact their nutrition. However, if your food allergies involve other organs rather than the digestive system, you are a prime candidate for weight gain due to inflammation as well as from allergic cravings or food addiction.
Sometimes inflammation is obvious – it causes redness, warmth, and/or pain. However, chronic inflammation can be silent. If you are overweight, you may not know it, but you are experiencing silent inflammation. As we gain weight, our bodies do not add more fat cells. The fat cells we already have become larger and are filled with more fat instead. They may leak as they are stretched more and more. Then immune cells called macrophages come in to clean up the mess. The macrophages release inflammatory chemicals in the fatty tissues as they are cleaning up. (1) This inflammatory response may be the mechanism behind many of the negative effects of overweight on health.
Your body counteracts this silent inflammation by producing anti-inflammatory chemicals. Some of these interfere with the function of the hormone leptin. In optimally healthy people, leptin is responsible for automatically maintaining weight at the right level. (2) Some people do not gain weight no matter what they eat. If they overeat, their well-functioning leptin control system boosts their metabolism and decreases their appetite to restore them to their best weight. When leptin is made ineffective by inflammation, the dysfunction is called leptin resistance, meaning that even though you have normal or high levels of leptin your leptin does not work to suppress appetite and speed metabolism, thus maintaining a healthy weight. (Leptin levels are usually high among those who are overweight).
This may sound like a depressing vicious cycle. Excess fat leads to inflammation and the chemicals that counteract inflammation (which are necessary to keep silent inflammation from causing symptoms) make it impossible for the body’s weight-control hormone, leptin, to function properly. Don’t despair though – there is a way to break this vicious cycle. There is also good news: As you slim down, leptin resistance abates and when you reach a healthy weight on the correct eating plan for you, you won’t have to struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Your newly-functional leptin system will control your appetite and weight.
HOW TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION
So how do we reduce inflammation? A very important way is to control the type of fat we consume. Prostaglandins are made from the fats we eat. Some of prostaglandins promote inflammation and some reduce it. (These anti-inflammatory prostaglandins are not the anti-inflammatory substances responsible for leptin resistance). The essential omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) tip the balance toward the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Although optimally healthy people can make EPA and DHA from other omega-3 fatty acids, those with allergies and gluten intorance often lack this ability so must get the EPA and DHA they need pre-formed. The best dietary source of these fatty acids is fatty fish. Most people need more omega-3 fatty acids than they can consume easily by eating fish so benefit from fish oil or krill (3) oil supplementation. How much fish oil you need is an individual matter; also various authorities disagree on the amount. (4)
Some foods also have anti-inflammatory properties because they contain powerful bioflavanoids, carotenoids and other anti-inflammatory compounds. (5) These foods include ginger and related spices, cherries, blueberries, other dark berries, pomegranates, and some other fruits, vegetables, and seasonings. See the end of this page for a list of these food and add them to your diet in generous amounts to control inflammation. The recipes in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss will help you add them in delicious ways.
Another and probably the most essential way to reduce inflammation is to reduce insulin levels. In The Anti-Inflammatory Zone, Barry Sears, PhD describes his work with members of the Stanford University swim team during one summer and how he improved their stamina and performance by giving them EPA and another fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in individualized regimens. However, when the school year started, their performance deteriorated and they became easily fatigued. Dr. Sears began to suspect that the cause was their diets and that high-carbohydrate dormitory food was raising their insulin levels. Library research confirmed his suspicion when he found a study which demonstrated that high insulin activates an enzyme that increases the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. He had the swimmers change their diets and their performance improved. His conclusion was that following an eating plan which controls blood sugar and insulin levels results in the balance of prostaglandins being more anti-inflammatory, resulting in less silent inflammation. (6) Although the goal of the swimmers was not weight loss, his findings apply to those who wish to lose because when silent inflammation decreases, leptin becomes more active, and we lose weight more easily.
Many readers of this book have inflammation that is not silent. You have allergic reactions, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. Following a healthy eating plan for glycemic control, taking fish oil, and adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet will help your inflammation. Dr. Galland writes about putting patients on diets designed to reduce inflammation and “those who were overweight began losing weight without even trying” as they saw their asthma, arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions improve. (7)
Therefore, your healthy eating plan should include three tools to improve your health through controlling inflammation: eating in a way that eliminates blood sugar and insulin spikes and maintains insulin at a relatively constant low level; consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids; and the inclusion of a generous amount of anti-inflammatory foods in what you eat. If you eat this way to lose weight, your inflammatory health problems may improve, and if you do it to control inflammation, your weight should normalize. An additional benefit will be the reduction of your level of cortisol, the inflammation dampening adrenal hormone. This may reduce anxiety and depression and lead to better sleep because excess cortisol depletes brain chemicals such at the neurotransmitter serotonin. (8) The antidepressant drugs you see advertised on television are designed to have the same effect of raising serotonin levels, but they can have serious side effects. Rather than helping you make more serotonin, they just inhibit its uptake, and any fluctuation in medication dosage, etc. can cause imbalances in the brain’s serotonin level which may lead to dangerously erratic behavior.
You have much to gain from an eating plan that controls blood sugar levels and inflammation: easier weight loss, improvement in inflammatory health conditions, better sleep, and relief from anxiety and depression caused by imbalances in brain neurotransmitters. (This healthy eating plan won’t make you ignore a real problem or do something out-of-character though!) With all of this to gain, why not give it a try? Read on to discover how controlling your hormones can control hunger, which is a major reason most weight loss diets fail to produce permanent results. With an eating plan that avoids hunger, you can do it! You can slim down without the struggle and distress you may have experienced while trying to lose weight in the past.
Some foods are super for us because they contain a variety of nutrients that moderate inflammation. Nuts, seeds, and high-fat fish such as salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that shift prostaglandin synthesis to the more anti-inflammatory kinds. Yogurt promotes the establishment of friendly intestinal flora and helps normalize immunity. However, most of the superfoods listed here quiet inflammation because of the wide variety of phytonutrients (bioflavanoids and carotenoids) they contain. Luteolin (found in green bell peppers and possibly other bell peppers) has an anti-inflammatory effect because it blocks the production of interleukin-6, a powerful promoter of inflammation. Green tea has a very potent anti-inflammatory effect due to its high level of catechin polymers, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). (9) Citrus flavanoids are found in grapefruit and oranges. Darkly colored fruits are potently anti-inflammatory because they contain high levels of anthocyanidins, so eat plenty of blueberries, cherries, and pomegranates. Reservatrol is found in red grapes and red wine. The vitamin A precursor beta-carotene is found in large amounts in carrots, broccoli, and arugula. Celery and celery seed contain over 20 anti-inflammatory compounds including apigenin. (10) Although this is a secondary effect of foods that dampen inflammation, the catechins in blueberries and green tea stimulate fat-burning in abdominal fat cells which promotes weight loss especially in the mid-section of the body. (11)
Include a generous amount of the foods below in your diet every day.
Fruits (Best eaten fresh and raw)
Blueberries (Use blueberries frozen without sugar if out of season).
Cherries (Use cherries frozen without sugar if out of season).
Nuts and Seeds (Raw, not roasted)
Animal Protein Foods
Yogurt (sugar-free and low-fat or nonfat)
Herbs and Spices
Vegetable juice (mixed or carrot juice)
* Most of the foods on this list come from the “Top 40 Superfoods” list in The Fat Resistance Diet by Leo Galland, M.D. A * denotes that this food was recommended as an anti-inflammatory food by another expert.
1. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 33.
2. Ibid., 32-33.
3. If you are allergic to shellfish, do not take krill oil. It comes from tiny marine crustaceans.
4. Dr. Leo Galland recommends 2 grams per day with more to be taken only under a doctor’s supervision. The most significant problem that can be associated with excessive omega-3 supplementation is bleeding. (Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 102). Barry Sears, PhD of the Zone Diet books recommends 5 grams per day for people who are overweight, 7.5 gram per day for those with arthritis, and 10 grams per day for people with neurological conditions. (Sears, Barry, PhD, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, (New York, Regan Books, 2005), 81).
5. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 92-94.
6. Sears, Barry, PhD, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, (New York, Regan Books, 2005), 215-216.
7. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 32.
8. Beale, Lucy and Joan Clark, RD, CDE, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss, (New York: Alpha, 2005), 23, 27.
9. * Most of the foods on this list come from the “Top 40 Superfoods” list in The Fat Resistance Diet by Leo Galland, M.D. A * denotes that this food was recommended as an anti-inflammatory food by another expert.
10. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 98. and http://www.care2.com/greenliving/13-foods-that-fight-pain.html