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Is Your Immune System Preventing You from Losing Weight?

Is Your Immune System Preventing You from Losing Weight?

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September 2, 2020 | Published by


Are you following a commonsense diet and still not losing weight? Is your exercise plan not producing the results you’d expect to see? Is the number on the scale staying the same (or perhaps going up) despite your best efforts? You’re not alone, and the culprit could be your own immune system.

Yes, the complex and amazing system that resides mostly in your gut that defends you from illness can also work against you. In fact, new research done by a team of Irish, American, and Canadian researchers shows that the immune system could be responsible for as much as 40% of your body’s ability to manage weight.1

Professor Donal O’Shea, one of the lead authors of the research paper, had this to say on the findings:

“We know that once weight is gained, for the majority of people, it is very difficult to lose that weight. It is too simplistic to say eat less, move more and the weight will come off. It doesn’t actually work like that. The body has a very powerful reaction to defend against weight loss, which we now know involves the immune system”.1

O’Shea added, “In evolutionary terms, a sudden or rapid weight loss could be a more immediate threat to survival. This immune system response contributes to why people really struggle to lose weight, despite their best efforts to control calories and do exercise. Our findings give us a much better understanding of why this is so and they illustrate the dynamic role that the immune system plays in regulating body weight”.

This may not be the case for all people but could certainly explain why some of us cannot lose weight despite our best efforts. It could also bring relief to people in this category who are stressed out about their seemingly impossible mission to lose weight. If the playing field were level, sensible eating and exercise would equal weight loss for anyone who gave it an honest effort. Yet there are people who can seemingly stay thin despite their diet or lifestyle, and those in the opposite situation.

What this new research posits is that not all guts are created equal, and some are more efficient than others at extracting calories from food. If you and a friend both ate the exact same meal, chances are you would each absorb different amounts of calories. Moreover, your body’s own calorie-converting abilities can change over time, whether due to age, genetics, or other health conditions.2

What about our guts makes it more likely to gain weight or more difficult to lose weight? There is an argument that just as antibiotics can provide faster growth in cattle, a decrease in microbiome diversity in humans can help cause obesity. 2

Antibiotic use in livestock and humans exploded in the 20th century. This correlates with the obesity epidemic we are seeing in the U.S. and other countries with heavy antibiotic use. This could be coincidental, but there’s an ever-growing body of evidence that strongly ties our metabolic health to the state of our microbiome. 2

There have been multiple studies over the past decade that show obese adults tend to have a weaker response to vaccinations, and that both overweight and underweight people have higher rates of infection. However, these findings were long considered to be effects of obesity, not causes. 2

With all this said, what can you do to possibly help immunity and weight gain or difficulty losing weight? Below are some tips to consider, if you aren’t already.3

  • Decrease or eliminate consumption of simple carbohydrates. This includes sweets, candy, many baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, jelly, etc.
  • Decrease or eliminate saturated or trans fats. These are commonly found in processed baked goods, fried foods, cheese, some dairy products, fatty meats, margarine, and some vegetable oils.
  • Consume 2 cups of whole fresh fruit daily, and at least 3 cups of fresh vegetables daily.
  • Drink at least 60-80 ounces of water daily.
  • Drink or eat 3 cups of low-fat (1% or skim) liquid dairy or dairy alternative per day (light yogurt, low-fat or fat-free milk). Eat 2-3 ounces of lean meat or beans with two meals per day.

References:

  1. University College Dublin. Immune system plays major role in regulation of body weight. Medical Xpress. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-09-immune-major-role-body-weight.html#:~:text=New%20research%20involving%20a%20team,body’s%20ability%20to%20regulate%20weight.
  2. Hamblin, J. The Fundamental Link Between Body Weight and the Immune System. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/08/inflammations-immune-system-obesity-microbiome/595384/
  3. Deivert S and Fleetwood M. Obesity and the Immune System. Obesity Action Community. https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/obesity-and-the-immune-system/

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