Allergies, Inflammation and Weight

This is THE book for weight loss on an allergy or gluten-free diet

There is a relationship between food allergies, inflammation, and weight gain. This webpage gives an overview of the subject, which is covered in more detail in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss and at www.foodallergyandglutenfreeweightloss
. Visit one of these resources to learn how the correct eating plan for you will help you slim down without hunger or deprivation.

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 retain and deposit fat rather than burning 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. Rather, the fat cells we already have become larger and filled with more fat. The cells leak as they are increasingly stretched. Then immune cells called macrophages migrate to the area to clean up the mess. The macrophages release inflammatory substances 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 this inflammation by producing anti-inflammatory substances, some of them interfere with the function of the hormone leptin. In optimally healthy people, leptin is responsible for automatically maintaining weight at their best 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 substances 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. Don't despair though – there is a way to break this cycle. There is also good news: As you slim down, leptin resistance abates, so when you reach a healthy weight, you should not have to struggle to maintain your weight. Your newly-functional leptin system will control your appetite and weight. Weight loss is actually not 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 may lack this ability so we must get preformed EPA and DHA. 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 they benefit from fish oil supplementation. If you do not tolerate fish oil or prefer a more tasty way of consuming essential fatty acids, see the seed milk smoothie recipes in Healing Basics. I personally find that having a smoothie every day keeps the skin on my fingertips crack-free, unlike fish oil.

Some foods also have anti-inflammatory properties for a variety of other reasons besides the nature of their fat. These foods contain powerful bioflavanoids, carotenoids, and other anti-inflammatory substances. [4] 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. For a list of these foods, click here.

Another and probably the most essential way to reduce inflammation is to stabilize and reduce insulin levels. 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 essential 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 that high-carbohydrate processed 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. [5] 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.

Some individuals are aware of their inflammation problems; they have allergic reactions, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. Following a healthy eating plan for blood sugar control, taking a daily dose of fish oil in individually-correct amounts or consuming one of the smoothies in Healing Basics, and adding anti-inflammatory foods to the diet will help decrease inflammation. Those with food allergies must also eliminate their food allergens to control inflammation. Dr. Leo Galland writes about putting patients on diets designed to reduce inflammation and says, "those who were overweight began losing weight without even trying" as they saw their allergies, asthma, arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions improve. [6]

Therefore, a healthy eating plan should include three tools to improve health through controlling inflammation: (1) 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 diet; (2) the inclusion of a generous amount of anti-inflammatory foods in meals and snacks, and (3) the elimination of food allergens. 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 also lead to better sleep because excess cortisol depletes brain chemicals such at the neurotransmitter serotonin. [7]

You have much to gain from an eating plan that controls blood sugar levels and inflammation: hunger-free weight loss, improvement in inflammatory health conditions, better sleep, reduced risk of cancer or a cancer relapse, improvement in diabetes control and more. You have nothing to lose but some excess pounds.


[1] Galland, Leo, MD, The Fat Resistance Diet, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 33.
[2] Galland, The Fat Resistance Diet, 32-33.
[3] Leptin levels are usually high in people who are overweight.
[4] Galland, The Fat Resistance Diet, 92-94.
[5] Sears, Barry, PhD, The Anti-Inflammation Zone, (New York, Regan Books, 2005), 215-216.
[6] Galland, The Fat Resistance Diet, 32.
[7] Beale, Lucy and Joan Clark, RD, CDE, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss, (New York: Alpha, 2005), 23, 27.