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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Understanding Inflammation and Weight Gain: Knowing how these two are related can be important to shedding unwanted pounds, says Dr. Barrie Zeller

Apr 30, 2013 06:23PM ● By Barrie Ann Zeller, NMD

Inflammation is a natural process our bodies use to protect and remove pathogens and irritants. It is also a mechanism that heals an area that has been damaged. There are five cardinal signs of acute inflammation: heat, redness, pain, swelling and loss of function. Chronic inflammation occurs when this natural process never ceases.

Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel, allergies and sinusitis are plagued by painful symptoms related to chronic inflammation. Cancer, dementia and high cholesterol can also be traced back to systemic, chronic inflammation. It may also be the reason we cannot shed unwanted pounds—studies suggest that chronic inflammation is one cause of obesity.

There are only theories as to the cause of inflammation, but most authorities agree that diet is a key factor. The choices we make about consuming certain foods on a continual basis sets us up for inflammation and weight gain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans get 10 percent of their calories from soda and other sugar loaded beverages—teens are getting 13 percent. A study conducted by University of California, Davis, on high fructose corn syrup, suggests that it contributes to metabolic syndrome and increases risk of heart disease, and diabetes, due to increasing inflammation in the body.

Grains, specifically wheat and other processed grains, are another culprit. Wheat is found in many processed foods, including soups, sauces, cereals, flour tortillas and pasta. Sugar, wheat and other processed foods promote inflammation and obesity several ways. One way wheat promotes inflammation is it metabolizes quickly into sugar (glucose), leading to increased levels in the blood. The hormone insulin then takes that glucose in the blood and shuttles it to the cells to store for later use as energy. High consumption of processed grains and added sugars backs up this system and insulin cannot keep up, so the glucose gets converted into fatty acids and stored as fat. Fat cells can produce inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers) triggering cells to stop receiving messages from insulin, causing insulin resistance. When the body cannot utilize glucose properly, inflammation and weight gain follow.

Inflammation can also disrupt the hormone leptin, which maintains weight by telling the brain we had enough to eat and we are full. Leptin resistance works like insulin resistance; the leptin goes to deliver its message to stop eating, but cells ignore it, so we keep eating. If cells are resistant, the message is not received that the body is satiated, so the person continues to be hungry and consume excess calories. This explains why so many diets do not work and weight loss is a struggle.

One key to weight loss then involves removing the underlying cause of weight gain; inflammation. To decrease inflammation, we have to eliminate foods that decrease cell sensitivity to insulin and leptin. Many weight-loss programs comprise either low-fat or low-calorie processed foods but are still pro-inflammatory, which may explain why they do not work. Switching to an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables, green tea, healthy fats, including wild caught fatty fish like salmon, and lean sources of protein will help. Avoiding processed foods, soda and juices, wheat, unhealthy fats and added sugars, plus any foods that cause sensitivities or allergies, will help to lower inflammation and improve hormonal messaging, allowing us to avoid hunger and begin to lose weight.

There are other theories on what causes chronic inflammation, including gut dysbiosis, food allergies, environmental toxins and chronic stress. There isn’t one cure or one diet that works for everyone. Contact a healthcare provider to receive to a thorough analysis of diet and lifestyle for best results.

Dr. Barrie Ann Zeller, of Zest Natural Medicine, 1405 N. Dobson Rd., Ste. 9, in Chandler, can be reached at 480-361-5108 or

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