Obesity, Silent Inflammation and Chronic Disease

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Category: Medical Weight Management Published on Monday, 21 October 2013 Written by Yong Tsai, MD
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During our life, we are always in constant struggles with microbes and injuries. Our innate immune system and its inflammatory reactions, refined by hundreds of millions years of evolution, allow us to coexist with these organism while maintaining a state of wellness. The ancient Roman physician Celsius described this inflammation as pain, swelling, redness, and heat, while the ancient Greek described it as the internal fire.

There are two distinct types of inflammation. The first type, classic inflammation, results in pain and swelling. The second type of inflammation, chronic low-level inflammation or silent inflammation, exists below the pain threshold. Both types of inflammation are primarily driven by the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids from arachidonic acid (AA). AA is an omega-6 fatty acid which is affected by diet. Certain foods such as refined carbohydrates, refined vegetable oils, and animal proteins rich in omega-6 fatty acids, can activate the innate immune system and trigger the low-level inflammatory process; other foods such as fish rich in omega-3 fatty acid, inhibit this process.

Silent inflammation is caused by overproduction of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids which either come from food or are released from adipose, or fat, tissue. Obesity occurs when there is an excess accumulation of adipose. Fat cells were previously considered inert storage sites for excess calories. Unfortunately, fat cells are not as innocent as originally thought. They are in fact very powerful generators of pro-inflammatory fatty acids which cause chronic low-grade activation of the immune system and trigger silent inflammation.

Silent inflammation can linger for years, if not decades, and can gradually affect different tissues and organs such as the liver, pancreas, brain and blood vessels. It causes insulin resistance, immune activation, as well as other metabolic dysfunctions. All of this can lead to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Silent inflammation can also destabilize cholesterol deposits on coronary arteries, triggering heart attacks or even strokes. Nerve cells in the brains of those predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease are also affected by silent inflammation. It can even promote rapid cell division, causing healthy cells to turn into cancerous ones. These pro-inflammatory eicosanoids that are supposed to fight invaders are now being used against your body!

Since silent inflammation is the driving force behind the accumulation of body fat, the vicious cycle of obesity and silent inflammation is difficult to break once formed. One must use proper calorie control, consume food rich in omega-3 fatty acid (such as vegetables, nuts, olive oil and fatty fishes), and consume low amounts of omega-6 fatty acid, refined grain products, and trans fats (found in cakes, pastries and margarine). This combined with regular exercise can break the cycle and prevent obesity related health problems.

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