The presence of chronic, uncontrolled low-grade inflammation in the body is an underlying factor in many common disease states: cardiovascular disease, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, allergies, cancer, certain autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and obesity to name a few. While short-term inflammation is an important body process that helps us fight off infection and injuries, the chronic inflammation is known to be harmful to our health and can set the stage for obesity. Chronic overeating, smoking, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and hypertension (high blood pressure) can flip the inflammation switch to the ‘ON’ position. This chronic inflammation can cause us to become resistant to insulin (a hormone that helps control blood sugar) and leptin (a hormone involved in satiety), which in turn translates to increased appetite, weight gain, and possibly obesity. The solution is to stop the inflammation-weight gain cycle through dietary and exercise management. Losing weight is the most effective way to turn “off” the chronic inflammation switch, but significant changes need to be made.
Dietary changes make a difference
If trying to reduce inflammation, a number of dietary changes can be made. First and foremost, eliminate all added sugar and refined carbohydrates. Aim for a diet loaded with vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean protein, and healthy fat sources (olive oil, avocado, canola oil). If sensitive to wheat and dairy, you should avoid these. Many people find that strictly avoiding wheat-containing foods makes it easier to lose weight. This may due in part to the reduction in carbohydrate intake by avoiding breads, pastas, and cereals.
Drink plenty of water
Dehydration, however mild, is extremely common and can also contribute to inflammation. Drinking enough water helps to flush toxins from the body, decrease bloating, and prevents constipation. Avoid caffeinated beverages, sweetened beverages (either with sugar or artificial sweeteners), and alcohol, as these are all inflammatory. If you need that cup of Joe in the morning, try to limit it to one cup each day or switch to tea.
The right kind of exercise has anti-inflammatory effects when done correctly. The 2 biggest mistakes we see with our weight loss patients is that they either don’t exercise at all, or they try to increase their exercise duration, intensity, or frequency too quickly. Exercise IS inflammatory in the short-term. This is how we see improvements in muscle tone, stamina, and endurance. If trying to reduce inflammation and lose weight, the goal is not necessarily calorie expenditure but how exercise affects the body in ways that we can’t see. Did you know that insulin sensitivity increases for up to 16 hours after a moderate cardio workout? Leptin, which is the hormone responsible for decreasing appetite, also increases with consistent exercise. We recommend 3-4 moderate cardio sessions or yoga weekly for 15-45 minutes (depending on ability). Add two 30 minute sessions of light-moderate weight or resistance training for even greater benefits. Most importantly, allow for adequate rest for muscles repair. If you continue on a path of too much exercise without rest, you will continue on a path of chronic inflammation, defeating the purpose.
Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases the production of inflammatory hormones, including cortisol which can contribute to weight gain. An amazing number of bodily processes occur during sleep, two of which are repair of muscle tissue and release of leptin. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep is optimal, according to sleep experts.
There are dozens of supplements that can help decrease inflammation. As always, check with your physician or Registered Dietitian prior to starting a supplement regimen. A multivitamin/mineral supplement can help protect against inflammation by providing “insurance” for those nutrients that you don’t get through diet alone. Most over the counter multi’s are inadequate for most people. I recommend looking in health food or specialty stores for a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that contains at least 50 mg each of vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B6. Add to this regimen an Omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplement that provides at least 1000 mg combined of EPA+DHA (refer to the label). If not consuming dairy, ensure that you are getting at least 800-1000 mg of calcium and 200-400 mg of magnesium (in citrate or chelated form) daily. Finally, have your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D deficiency is common in our society and can increase inflammation and slow or stall weight loss. According to vitamin D experts, optimal Vitamin D levels are between 50 and 70 ng/dl. Unless you spend a lot of time outdoors, you need at least 2000 I.U. per day just to maintain your levels. If your levels are lower than this, you may need to supplement at higher doses as directed by your physician.
It is recommended that you speak with your physician before making any significant dietary or lifestyle changes. With knowledge and commitment, you could be on your way to breaking the weight gain-inflammation cycle!
Amy Shideler, MS, RD