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May 18, 2020 4 min read

Obesity and the immune system: an important link

 

Being overweight can make you more prone to suffer from several health issues like blood pressure, diabetes, strokes or heart issues, even certain types of hormonal misbalances and cancer. On the heels of Covid-19, this topic is more relevant now than ever before! However, where is the hidden link? This can be the beginning of the answer!

How many times have you heard that being on your ideal weight will help you to have a healthy and longer life? This popular and long-timed recommendation has been made for every doctor and mother throughout the years, but where and why is the link between obesity and some health-related conditions? Studies have found out that obesity affects the way the immune system responds, causing distortions that can be derived in many autoimmune diseases as well as inflammation conditions, and to increase the possibility to suffer from infectious diseases.

Since obesity is a worrying epidemic in America and worldwide with at least 300 million people suffering it while many other individuals are overweight, the reason to study the link between obesity and the immune response has become important and urgent for everyone.

In recent researches, obesity has been associated with high-incident chronic autoimmune and inflammatory pathologies, such as T2DM, NAFLD, OA, and RA; causing an economic and social impact on most western societies.

Here, we will explain the link between the inflammation caused by obesity and the possibility to suffer many health-related inflammation conditions, infectious, and autoimmune diseases.

Fat mass and inflammation

When you start gaining some extra weight, the additional fat goes into storage, creating a deposit of adipose tissue.

This stored fat can cause an increase of pressure on joints, bone, and muscles; however, adipose tissue does not only limit to create an excess of fat mass, but it can also become a powerful endocrine organ who primary goal is to produce hormones called adipokines, thus bringing an inflammatory response that affects the metabolism and also the immune system.

The relationship between a correct immune response with nutrition states – malnutrition/starvation – bearing in mind that obesity is just another form of malnutrition which involves an excess of nutrients flooding the main body systems is now known as the science of immunometabolism; a field that dedicates to study the many links that obesity or over-nutrition can affect the immune response.

According to this new scientific field, there are multiple ways in which obesity – and the subsequent inflammation produced by it to muscles and joints – relates to our immune response. In this article, we will talk about two of them:

Leptin role on the immune system

As we said before, adipose tissue is an endocrine organism in charge of producing cytokine-like hormones, called adipokines; in which the most important of them is the one called Leptin.

Leptin is already a historical and the most relevant substance of the adipokines production, with many important physiological roles in the central control of energy metabolism as well as the regulation of metabolism-immune system interplay; being one of the main reasons why the emerging field of immunometabolism exists. Moreover, the leptin receptor is expressed throughout the immune system as is already known for regulating both innate and adaptive immune responses.

Multiple studies have shown that your immune system is a live organism dependent on an adequate food intake and metabolism. By altering that with high consumption of nutrients or harmful foods like sugary snacks, drinks, and trans fats, your immune system cells changes to adapt themselves to the other altered cells of your organism – the ones affected by an excess of nutrients and a dissimilar metabolism - thus affecting your body’s natural immunity and tolerance, causing the failure of the immune response.

Innate and adaptive immune cell systems adapt to altered tissue caused by malnutrition – starvation or obesity -, by ultimately reprogramming their metabolism; leading a failure in your immune response to any potential pathology.

In addition to this, an overproduction of the Leptin receptor by obesity or overweight – known as hyperleptinemia- can affect your immune response by decreasing the levels of Treg – a central player in the control of peripheral immune tolerance -, which means you become more prone to suffer autoimmune diseases and any other debilitating illnesses by increasing your BMI.

Another central role that Leptin plays in your immune system is its relationship with the hypothalamus, meaning that any malfunction related to this receptor can alter your sympathetic nervous system thus damaging the main functions coming from the central control of the immune system.

How gut bacteria can harm your immune response

As many researchers know by now – and so do you – obesity alters the quantity and quality of immune cells like leucocytes; altering its counts as well as lowering the effectiveness of the cell-mediated immune response. These can translate that your body’s weak immune response is then responsible for you to suffer stronger episodes of flu, side effects from vaccinations, and elevated rates of hard to treat infections.

However, the most interesting data so far, is that exists a more worrying type of fat: visceral adipose tissue – as having a large waist - and central obesity is more dangerous than total body fat for your overall health as well as your immune system response.

In the case of gut bacteria – the microorganism that lives in your gut, approximately 100 trillion of them – responsible for many important metabolic functions, they are also related to the way your immune system reacts. The relationship between these two is very complex and a two-way road: the immune system helps control the composition of the gut microbiome while an important change of your gut bacteria –produced by age, weight gain or a very important illness - can lead to a deteriorated immune system response.

Moreover, having a poor diet can lead to a gut bacteria disbalance which can be reflected in the immune system control of colon: the growth of other bacteria with no control might bring problems with metabolic regulation causing the appearance of new diseases or body alteration.

A solution for this latter case might be the intake of probiotics, rich in  Akkermansia muciniphila; which can help you to improve your metabolic process, including enhancing your immune system and losing weight.

Fighting obesity is the PRIMARY GOAL of Midwest Meals. We serve to help guide you in your journey to your best self!

 


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