“You're the healthiest fat person I've ever seen!” This is what one of my friends said her doctor tells her. Obesity has a strong association with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many other health conditions. Some researchers define the “metabolic syndrome” as a condition that includes obesity, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular risk factors including high cholesterol. But some obese people are metabolically very healthy. A recent article in Biochemistry Journal reports that obesity clinics commonly identify patients who are “inappropriately” healthy for their weight.
So what makes the difference between healthy and not so healthy obese people? The authors studied inflammatory molecules in obese patients categorized as insulin resistant or with normal insulin sensitivity. They found elevated levels in the insulin resistant group. Healthy obese individuals in the study had levels closer to normal. Many other studies have linked inflammatory markers with obesity and cardiovascular disease; one of the latest is given in the References.
A chronic state of inflammation indicates something wrong with the immune system, which is one of the most complicated systems in our bodies. The immune response can be too low, as in patients taking immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants, AIDS patients, and individuals with genetic immune deficiencies. In this case, the patient is subject to serious illness and death from infection. The immune response can also be too high, as in patients with allergies, autoimmune disease, and chronic inflammation. In this case, tissue damage can be as bad as anything the germs can do to us.
Chronic inflammation is treated with a variety of drugs and dietary factors. Many authors believe that the quality of our food, not just the quantity, is responsible for obesity and related health conditions. The medical literature contains numerous reports that fruits, vegetables, and spices contain anti-oxidants that provide health benefits. Anti-inflammatory properties of foods are less explored, but I have found excellent references for two foods: cherries and turmeric.