On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Fat's Role in Causing Inflammation

Fat generally comes with a bad reputation, though the body does need fat for essential physiological processes and functions, including the protection and cushioning of vital body organs. However, too much is not always a good thing and in the case of fat, excess can cause a myriad of problems. Along with weight gain, a high fat diet can cause inflammation and lead to various chronic disease states.

Fat's Role in Causing Inflammation

What Causes Inflammation in the Body?

Inflammation is a general term to describe the body's immune response. When the body senses evident or perceived harmful substances, white blood cells, macrophages, and other self-defensive substances are released. Typical symptoms of inflammation include redness, swelling, and stiffness and can affect internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. But inflammation has multiple causes, including external and internal influences. External inflammatory triggers can include infectious bacteria and viruses but in some instances, inflammation may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. In such disorders, the body perceives normally healthy tissues as dangerous and harmful, ultimately attacking and damaging itself. Common autoimmune diseases include various forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid, psoriatic, and gouty arthritis. Body weight and lifestyle factors, including diet choices, can also have a large impact on inflammation.

Fat's Role in Causing Inflammation

When it comes to fat's role in causing inflammation, most of the concern is based on the amount of fat in the body and the type of dietary fat consumed. Fatty tissue in the body is comprised of adipose cells (adipocytes), which increase in volume but not in number, and primarily expand based on poor diet choices and a sedentary lifestyle. Adipocytes also contain self-defensive macrophages which have shown to produce cytokines, or a general name to describe various pro-inflammatory substances in the body. Adipocytes, macrophages, and cytokines have a positive relationship, suggesting as adipocytes grow larger, more macrophages and cytokines are produced, subsequently leading to more inflammation.

But in addition to excess body fat, dietary intake of certain fat types poses inflammatory risk, too. There is no doubt trans fats are publicized as a villain of health, but the association was formed with great reason. Also recognized as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, trans fat is a manmade fat chemically produced to enhance flavor and prolong shelf life. Although the creation was based on nod worthy characteristics, the health concerns it triggered started to shake heads, mostly following its renowned link to heart disease and its display of pro-inflammatory properties. Trans fats are found in a wide variety of desserts, prepackaged items, and margarines.

Furthermore, the overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids in the Westernized diet can also lead to inflammation. Omega-6s are primarily found in soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, and cottonseed oils and like trans fats, are widely found in fried and highly processed foods. Additionally, while saturated fat sources can certainly fit into a healthy diet, as nutritious iron-rich beef and calcium-containing milk supplies this type of fat, too much of it can also result in inflammation.

A Heavy Twist...

Interestingly, too, some fat types are actually quite healthful and may even combat against inflammation. Unlike omega-6s, its highly respected relative, omega-3 fatty acids, actually displays powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Fatty fish has the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids, including anchovy, tuna, herring, rainbow trout, and halibut, but can also be found in canola oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, and pumpkin seeds. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), a type of healthful monounsaturated fat, also displays anti-inflammatory properties. EVOO contains oleocanthal, an inflammation-blocking compound that works similar to the medication known as NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). All-in-all, replace saturated and trans fats and omega-6s with more healthful fats, including monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Balancing their intake with whole grains, fresh fruits, and lean proteins can also reduce the risk for not only weight gain, but inflammation and chronic diseases.