Record numbers of U.S. adults are now considered obese, with more than one-third of the population falling into the category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists blame the obesity epidemic on diets high in sugar and fat, along with sedentary lifestyles, but new research is uncovering the important role inflammation plays in the health crisis.

A recent study showed that inflammation is a key driver in the development of obesity.

The 2013 research published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal found that fat- and sugar-ridden diets trigger changes in immune cells and spur an inflammatory response. The inflammation not only leads to obesity, but also increases a person’s risk for a host of related health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, and heart disease.

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to fight off infection. However, chronic inflammation harms the body and paves the way for serious illnesses.

To uncover the link between obesity and inflammation, scientists at Australia’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland studied stomach fat tissue in humans and rats that were either obese or overweight. They found increased presence of PAR2, a protein related to inflammation. Researchers found that when they blocked PAR2 from causing inflammation, rats failed to become obese despite a diet high in fat and sugar.

Obesity is an inflammatory disease, researchers concluded, unraveling the condition’s biological underpinnings.

Inflammation may lead to obesity, but extra fat cells also contribute to inflammation. Medical professionals have long understood the danger of abdominal fat, which produces inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Belly fat is particularly dangerous because it lies deep within the abdomen, where it lies close to organs and easily infiltrates muscles and the liver.

Another 2013 study, published in BMC Endocrine Disorders, linked a second inflammation-causing protein, called allograft inflammatory factor 1 (AIF-1), to obesity in women. Researchers found that fat tissue produces the inflammatory protein, which obese women carry in higher concentrations than women of a normal weight. The protein is also implicated in insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

What do you think of the connection between obesity and inflammation? 

Image by Joris Louwes via Flickr


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