Inflammation, part of the body’s immune response, is helpful when it is localized and short-term and harmful when it is in overdrive, chronic and becomes self-perpetuating.
Bump a knee and the pain, heat and redness lets you know that immune activity is happening to promote healing. Sleep only four hours a night, skip the veggies while loading up on sugary snacks or hold in anger and chronic inflammation might be burning you up.
Chronic low-level inflammation appears to be one of the root causes of heart disease, cancer and possibly neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Recently published research in Brain, Behavior and Immunity begins to explain how excess body weight contributes to chronic inflammation.
Researchers at Brandeis University measured interleukin 6 (IL-6), a body chemical associated with stress-related inflammation after a stress-producing task. To create stress, subjects had to present a five-minute videotaped public speech and a five-minute mental arithmetic task in front of two judges in lab coats. Subjects were grouped by BMI and body fat percent.
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Based on IL-6 levels, lean and overweight individuals responded similarly to stress on the first day. On the second day of testing, lean individuals still had the same IL-6 levels as the first day, but the overweight subjects’ levels doubled.
The authors conclude that higher levels of weight and body fat are related with an increased IL-6 stress response. Higher IL-6 levels are found in many serious diseases, including metastatic cancer.
The relationship with body fat and IL-6 was linear, meaning the higher the weight, the greater the response and thus greater potential for inflammation. The good news is that even a small weight loss that drops BMI might improve the body’s stress response and lead to lower IL-6 levels.
Go to Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory pyramid at http://www.drweil.com for a detailed food plan that will help quench the inflammatory fire and move naturally toward a healthier weight.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.