Allergies, Inflammation and Weight Control
Food allergies, inflammation and weight problems are intimately related. Eating foods to which you are allergic causes inflammation which makes your adrenal glands secrete hormones which destabilize your insulin and blood sugar levels. The high level of insulin affects the activity of two enzymes which cause your body to hold on to and deposit fat rather than allowing you to burn it for energy. Thus, food allergies can lead to weight gain, and a high amount of body fat can promote inflammation and exacerbate problems with allergies.
Excess body fat contributes to inflammation, although we may not be aware that we are experiencing silent inflammation. As we gain weight, our bodies do not add more fat cells. The fat cells we already have become larger and are filled with more fat instead. They may leak as they are stretched more and more. Then immune cells called macrophages come in to clean up the mess. The macrophages release inflammatory chemicals in the fatty tissues as they are cleaning up. (1) This inflammatory response may be the mechanism behind many of the negative effects of overweight on health.
When your body counteracts inflammation by producing anti-inflammatory chemicals, some of them interfere with the function of the hormone leptin. In optimally healthy people, leptin is responsible for automatically maintaining weight at the right level. (2) Some people do not gain weight no matter what they eat. If they overeat, their well-functioning leptin control system boosts their metabolism and decreases their appetite to restore them to their best weight. When leptin is made ineffective by inflammation, the dysfunction is called leptin resistance, meaning that even though you have normal or high (3) levels of leptin, your leptin does not work to suppress appetite and speed metabolism, so it is a struggle to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
This may sound like a depressing vicious cycle. Excess fat leads to inflammation and the chemicals that counteract inflammation (which are necessary to keep silent inflammation from causing symptoms) make it impossible for the body’s weight-control hormone, leptin, to function properly. But don’t despair – there is a way to break this cycle. There is also good news: As you slim down, leptin resistance abates and when you reach a healthy weight on the correct eating plan for you, you should not have to struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Your newly-functional leptin system will control your appetite and weight. Weight loss is actually NOT all about calories; it is about controlling hormones such as insulin, cortisol, and leptin and decreasing inflammation.
So how do we reduce inflammation? A very important way is to control the type of fat we consume. Prostaglandins are made from the fats we eat. Some prostaglandins promote inflammation and some reduce it. (These anti-inflammatory prostaglandins are not the anti-inflammatory substances responsible for leptin resistance). The essential omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) tip the balance toward the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Although optimally healthy people can make EPA and DHA from other omega-3 fatty acids, those of us with allergies often lack this ability so must get the EPA and DHA we need pre-formed. The best dietary source of these fatty acids is fatty fish. Most people need more omega-3 fatty acids than they can consume easily by eating fish so benefit from fish oil supplementation. How much fish oil you need is an individual matter; also various authorities disagree on the amount. (4)
Some foods also have anti-inflammatory properties for a variety of other reasons besides the nature of their fat, such as that they contain powerful bioflavanoids, carotenoids, and other anti-inflammatory substances. (5) They include ginger, cherries, blueberries, other dark berries, pomegranates, and some other fruits, vegetables, seasonings, and beverages. These foods should be added to your diet in generous amounts to help control inflammation. The recipes in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss will help you add them in delicious ways.
Another and probably the most essential way to reduce inflammation is to stabilize and reduce insulin levels. In The Anti-Inflammatory Zone, Barry Sears, PhD describes his work with members of the Stanford University swim team during one summer and how he improved their stamina and performance by giving them EPA and GLA (another fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid) in individualized regimens. However, when the school year started in the fall, their performance deteriorated and they became fatigued easily. Dr. Sears began to suspect that the cause was their diets and that high-carbohydrate dormitory food was raising their insulin levels. Library research confirmed his suspicion when he found a study which demonstrated that high insulin activates an enzyme that increases the production of pro-inflammatory compounds. He had the swimmers change their diets and their performance improved. His conclusion was that following an eating plan which controls blood sugar and insulin levels results in the balance of prostaglandins being more anti-inflammatory, resulting in less silent inflammation. (6) Although the goal of the swimmers was not weight loss, his findings also apply to those who wish to lose weight because when inflammation decreases, leptin becomes more active, and we lose weight more easily.
Many readers of this website have inflammation that you are very aware of. You have allergic reactions, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. Following a healthy eating plan for blood sugar control, taking fish oil in the correct dose for you, and adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet will help your inflammation. Dr. Leo Galland writes about putting patients on diets designed to reduce inflammation and “those who were overweight began losing weight without even trying” as they saw their allergies, asthma, arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions improve. (7)
Therefore, your healthy eating plan should include two tools to improve your health through controlling inflammation:  eating in a way that eliminates blood sugar and insulin spikes and maintains insulin at a relatively constant low level by following a linked-and-balanced, glycemic index controlled carbohydrate-containing diet; and  the inclusion of a generous amount of anti-inflammatory foods in what you eat. If you eat this way to lose weight, your inflammatory health problems may improve, and if you do it to control inflammation, your weight should normalize. An additional benefit will be the normalization of your level of cortisol, the inflammation dampening adrenal hormone. This may reduce anxiety and depression and lead to better sleep because excess cortisol depletes brain chemicals such at the neurotransmitter serotonin. (8) The antidepressant drugs you see advertised on television are designed to have the same effect of raising serotonin levels, but they can have serious side effects. Rather than helping you make more serotonin, they inhibit its uptake, and any fluctuation in medication dosage, etc. can cause imbalances in the brain’s serotonin level which may lead to dangerously erratic behavior.
You have much to gain from an eating plan that controls blood sugar levels and inflammation: easy and hunger-free weight loss, improvement in inflammatory health conditions, better sleep, and relief from anxiety and depression caused by imbalances in brain neurotransmitters. See the Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss website for more information about eating this way.
1. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 33.
2. Ibid., 32-33.
3. Leptin levels are usually high among those who are overweight.
4. Dr. Leo Galland recommends 2 grams per day with more to be taken only under a doctor’s supervision. The most significant problem that can be associated with excessive omega-3 supplementation is bleeding. (Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 102). Barry Sears, PhD of the Zone Diet books recommends 5 grams per day for people who are overweight, 7.5 grams per day for those with arthritis, and 10 grams per day for people with neurological conditions. (Sears, Barry, PhD, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, (New York, Regan Books, 2005), 81).
5. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 92-94.
6. Sears, Barry, PhD, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, (New York, Regan Books, 2005), 215-216
7. Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 32.
8. Beale, Lucy and Joan Clark, RD, CDE, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss, (New York: Alpha, 2005), 23, 27.