How does eating unhealthy food cause inflammation?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
At the intestinal level, foods can cause inflammation of your intestinal wall through such things as allergies, bacteria, or other toxins. When food incites inflammatory responses in your gut, it's as if a grenade has been launched throughout your digestive system. Then in response to this already-damaging grenade, your body tosses more grenades to create an apocalyptic digestive War of the Worlds. The effect is that the more inflammation we have in the intestines, the more we allow toxins to enter our bloodstream.

During this firefight along the digestive border, your body perceives a foreign intruder and assigns its special forces—mast cells and macrophages—to eliminate the intruder. These are the cells that start an immune-response process throughout your body by ingesting foreign elements and alerting the rest of your body's protecting cells that intruders have entered the area.

Your body sees foods that don't agree with its sensibilities as a foreign invader, so the macrophages attack these foods and tell everyone that this war is going on. This causes your whole body to start firing away at these foods and at innocent bystanders—and thus causes inflammation in your bloodstream. In that way, eating unhealthy food is really like having a chronic infection that triggers an immune response, which then causes inflammation.

Along with eating unhealthy food, intestinal inflammation can also be triggered by fat and blood sugar. One of your body's goals is to get glucose into your brain cells—to feed those brain cells so that they can function. But inflammation in your body prevents sugar from getting to those cells, so you end up wanting more glucose, eating more sugary foods, which then increases inflammation and starts the whole cycle again.

While we should be concerned about decreasing our body fat, we should also concentrate on decreasing our body's inflammatory response so we become more efficient in managing potential complications of our waist size. There's some genetic component to inflammation (some us have more than others, and smokers tend to have higher levels of inflammation than non-smokers), but the process of gaining weight is often a process of inflammation. When you can decrease your body's inflammatory response, you will decrease your weight and waist as well.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

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YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.