Woman measuring waist while wondering if inflammation can cause weight gain

Does Inflammation Cause Weight Gain?

Written on July 2, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Being overweight and obese is detrimental to your health and can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. [1] Losing weight can have positive health benefits; even a modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of your total body weight can decrease the chances of obesity-related illnesses. [2] Understanding causes that contribute to weight gain can help you create a weight management plan. Factors that can lead to weight gain can include behavior, environment, genetics, and sleep patterns. [3] But does inflammation cause weight gain? Read on to learn more about the relationship between inflammation and your weight.

Chronic Inflammation Can Lead to Weight Gain

If you struggle to lose weight after committing significant effort and resources, chronic inflammation may be part of the issue. Research has linked chronic inflammation and increased weight gain. Various markers in the body that promote inflammation (or proinflammatory markers), such as IL-6, tumor necrosis factor, C-reactive proteins, and adiponectin, are associated with weight gain. [4] These proinflammatory markers are associated with imbalances in hormones and an altered metabolism, and remain elevated until excess weight is lost. The connection between chronic inflammation and weight gain is complicated, and each has been implicated in worsening the other condition. [5] Whether inflammation directly causes weight gain or obesity is the initial cause of the inflammation is still unclear. [4-5]

Inflammation in the body can also lead to insulin resistance (your body cells no longer respond well to insulin) and exacerbate weight gain. [6] Inflammation impairs the normal signaling and function of insulin and leptin (a hormone released by fat tissues to help maintain weight) in the body. The altered signals and hormone dysfunction lead to higher glucose levels, fat accumulation in the liver, and energy imbalances contributing to an increase in weight. [6-9] In obesity, cells in fat tissues release proinflammatory markers, further impairing insulin signals, and advancing insulin resistance. [6]

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Significant contributing factors to chronic inflammation include the lifestyle choices you make, such as choosing diets high in processed sugars, carbohydrates, and unhealthy foods. [10] Living with prolonged stress in your life can also contribute to developing chronic inflammation. Because the signs of chronic inflammation can be challenging to spot, the problem may go undiagnosed. Signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation can include abdominal pain, chest pain, fatigue, fever, joint pain, and skin rash. [10] The most common causes of chronic inflammation unrelated to lifestyle choices include exposure to toxic substances, untreated acute inflammation, or autoimmune disease. [10,11]

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The Role of Inflammation in the Body

Inflammation is your body's natural response to irritants such as viruses, bacteria, toxic substances, or injuries. [7,11] Inflammation involves a series of complex but organized responses that include the recruitment of different blood cells to fight pathogens and promote healing. When healthy tissues are injured or infected, you can experience swelling, redness, pain, or feeling warm to the touch.

There are two main types of inflammation — acute and chronic. [11] Acute inflammation starts rapidly and progresses in a short time, with symptoms lasting only for a few days. When the inflammatory response persists over a long period of time, it is considered chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is associated with many long-lasting and progressive diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, weight gain, and obesity. [11]

Ways to Reduce Inflammation

There are various ways you can reduce inflammation[10,12]:

  • Consume a healthy diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Avoid foods that encourage inflammation, including fried foods, cured meats, highly refined oils and trans fats, and processed carbohydrates.
  • Exercise regularly up to three to five times a week to help reduce inflammation and promote an overall healthy weight.
  • Avoid starting or quit smoking.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Manage stress with healthy tools like meditation.
  • Consider supplementation with certain nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, and zinc.
  • Your healthcare provider may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroids to help decrease inflammation.

Weight Loss with Everlywell

If you struggle to lose weight and find that you keep gaining weight instead, reach out to your healthcare provider. The Everlywell Weight Care+ program offers telehealth for weight loss and provides the option to meet virtually with a certified clinician to discuss your weight loss goals and develop a weight management plan. The healthcare provider can consult with you one-on-one to provide information about lifestyle changes, support, and prescription medication if appropriate.

Additionally, Everlywell has an at-home lab test that can allow you to learn about your vitamin D level and measure for inflammation in your body. Your test will be completed at a CLIA-certified lab and reviewed by an independent board-certified physician in your state.

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  1. Adult obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. May 17, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  2. Losing weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html. Last reviewed September 19, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  3. Other factors in weight gain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 3, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/other_factors.html.
  4. Tuomisto K, Jousilahti P, Havulinna AS, Borodulin K, Männistö S, Salomaa V. Role of inflammation markers in the prediction of weight gain and development of obesity in adults - A prospective study. Metabol Open. 2019;3:100016. doi: 10.1016/j.metop.2019.100016. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32812925/.
  5. Ellulu MS, Patimah I, Khaza’ai H, Rahmat A, Abed Y. Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications. Arch Med Sci. 2017;13(4):851-863. doi: 10.5114/aoms.2016.58928. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/.
  6. Zatterale F, Longo M, Naderi J, Raciti GA, Desiderio A, Miele C, Beguinot F. Chronic Adipose Tissue Inflammation Linking Obesity to Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. Front Physiol. 2020 Jan 29;10:1607. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01607. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32063863/.
  7. Medzhitov R. Inflammation 2010: new adventures of an old flame. Cell. 2010;140(6):771-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.03.006. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867410002424.
  8. Sonnefeld L, Rohmann N, Geisler C, Laudes M. Is human obesity an inflammatory disease of the hypothalamus? Eur J Endocrinol. 2023 Mar 2;188(3):R37-R45. doi: 10.1093/ejendo/lvad030. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36883605/.
  9. Khanna D, Khanna S, Khanna P, Kahar P, Patel BM. Obesity: A Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation and Its Markers. Cureus. 2022 Feb 28;14(2):e22711. doi: 10.7759/cureus.22711. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35386146/.
  10. Inflammation: What is it, causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21660-inflammation. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  11. Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023.
  12. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation. Published November 16, 2021. Accessed June 7, 2023.
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