How being overweight affects your immune system
Never before has the word immune system been so popular.
The pandemic that has us all stuck at home gave it prominence and is forcing us to learn how to strengthen it and the multiple variables that threaten it.
Among them are overweight and body fat index.
Here I am going to show you why, beyond disfavoring your figure, they can also seriously affect your health.
And some actions that you can take, immediately, so that you do not continue to accumulate pounds without control.
Being overweight is an epidemic
Whether you're within the normal range, overweight, or obese, the sum of your pounds and body fat index (BMI) play a huge role in your immunity.
Unfortunately, more than ⅔ of Americans are classified as overweight and a staggering 1/3 of them are obese.
On average, that population is heavier than at any other time in history.
There has also been a similar increase in diagnoses of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
That is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that obesity is an epidemic in this country.
But how does being overweight impact the immune system and, therefore, health?
It all has to do with body fat percentage.
Let's talk about how high body fat index can decrease the protective action of the immune system.
- It promotes various chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and intestinal failure.
- It affects sleep patterns by causing a higher body temperature. It also produces snoring or sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea.
Every time you snore you lack oxygen to your brain, which causes you to wake up restless and disrupt deep sleep phases.
- It causes low self-esteem, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety and stress, which can lead to overeating or binge eating that makes it seem like you're going to finish off the entire fridge (with emotions of guilt and shame included).
All this can become a vicious cycle that makes you get sick and get infections more often.
The good thing is that you can get to the root cause and take action to resolve it.
Does it catch your attention? Then broaden your mind and keep reading because later I will introduce you to some simple steps that do not cost anything and you can do at home.
If you have medical problems, I recommend taking your strategy to another level. Seek the help of a dietician and a personal trainer to guide you towards a better lifestyle.
It will be very important to have a blood test to check your inflammation markers, because studies have shown that the more inflammation there is in the body, the less likely it is that your immune system will defend you against viruses and the flu from influenza.
Calculate your body mass index (BMI)
Measuring it is easy, you just have to apply this simple formula:
BMI = Weight (kg) / height (m)2
- Height: 165cm (1.65m).
- Weight: 68kg
- Calculation: 68 ÷ (2.7225) = 24.98
Recent studies have shown that a person with a BMI higher than 24.9 may have impaired immune function. Even if you eat healthy and exercise, if you are still overweight you will still be at risk.
Some findings specify that obesity itself can cause the following:
- Less production of cytokines, a group of proteins secreted by the body so that communication between cells occurs.
- Altered function of monocytes and lymphocytes, which fight certain infections, remove dead or damaged tissue, and protect against foreign substances.
- Dysfunction of natural killer cells, which destroy other infected and cancer cells, as well as regulate immune responses.
- Reduced function of macrophages and dendritic cells.
- Decreased response to antigen/mitogen stimulation.
Now, you must be wondering, "What does all that mean?"
The conclusion is that an impaired immune response in animals and obese people increases the risks of infection.
The exact cause of these findings is unknown. Obesity is an extremely complex disease that alters many processes and pathways; any of them could affect the immune system.
Other studies have shown the same. For example, obese hospitalized patients are more likely to develop secondary infections and complications such as sepsis, pneumonia, bacteremia, and wound and catheter infections than are patients with a normal body mass index.
Why do you think obese people are told to lose significant amounts of weight before undergoing surgery that involves the use of the operating room? In general, it appears that obesity may increase the risk of bacterial and viral infections.
Severe obesity is also considered a risk factor for increased severity of infection and death from the H1N1 influenza strain. They also cause a lower immune response to vaccines.
Nutrition and immune function
We've all heard the saying, "Eat an apple a day and you'll keep the doctor away." This is totally true.
Eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants (fruits and vegetables), which also has enough protein, helps your immune system to function properly.
Specific micronutrients such as iron, selenium, zinc, copper, as well as vitamins C, A, E, B-6 and folic acid have important functions for this purpose.
Conversely, diets high in refined sugar and unhealthy fats (trans and saturated fats), or eating too many calories in general, make you more prone to infections.
This is because it can increase blood sugar or cause oxidative damage, which increases the chances of infection and speeds up the aging process in the body.
Eating little protein also increases the risk of protein-energy malnutrition, associated with significant impairments in immunity.
And although it is believed that an individual affected by obesity cannot present deficiencies or malnutrition, it turns out that it does happen because their diet is poor in nutrients but rich in empty calories.
Therefore, deficiencies could occur in anyone who eats little protein, regardless of their weight.
How can you improve your diet?
- Reduce calories to facilitate weight loss. I recommend downloading the myfitnesspal or Fitbit tools to track your calorie intake.
- Practice intermittent fasting with the support of a doctor. Studies have shown that it helps with fat loss in obese patients.
- Cut down on simple carbohydrates like candy, candy, baked goods, sugary drinks, sugar, honey, jams, gelatin, etc.
- Decreases excess "unhealthy" fats (saturated or trans) found in: commercial baked goods, processed or fried foods, cheese, whole and 2% milk, ice cream, creams, fatty meats (beef and pork products ), butter and margarine. Also palm and canola vegetable oils.
- Choose OMEGA 3 fatty acids that contain avocados, fatty fish like salmon and walnuts.
- Eat two cups of whole fruit and at least three cups of vegetables each day. Choose fruits with a lower glycemic index like strawberries and blackberries. Mix them with low-sugar yogurt and nuts.
- Eat two to three ounces of lean meat or beans with two meals per day.
- Drink at least 1.5 to 2.5 liters of water per day, depending on your body weight.
Exercise and health go hand in hand.
We've all heard that exercising helps fight diseases like high blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer, sleep disorders, mood disorders, and obesity.
In general, people who are physically active during the day have longer, healthier lives. Also, there is evidence that your defenses work better.
Studies have shown that exercise appears to increase the number of certain cells that help boost immune activity and increase lean muscle mass.
And moderate exercise has been reported to increase certain immune cells, while excessively intense exercise (without adequate rest) increases stress on the body and makes a person more at risk of infection.
- Tip: Try to get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. You can divide it into 5 sessions of 30 minutes per week.
- Tricks: park farther away, take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a walk with a friend after meals and during breaks at work.
If you feel like you're making progress, you can incorporate strength training as building muscle helps burn more calories compared to cardio alone.
Later you can do high intensity interval training (HIIT) to get faster results in a shorter period of time.
But you must learn to crawl before you can run.
Vaccines and BMI over 25
Thanks to previous research on the flu and the increase in data that the current situation has caused, doubts about the effect of being overweight on the immune response are being cleared up.
If you're overweight and your goal is to stay safe during the pandemic, don't wait for months to pass before you eventually get a vaccine that will make the world a safe place.
This plan may not shield you for the following reasons:
- Obesity can make the flu vaccine less effective and offer less protection, according to what was published in the International Journal of Obesity on June 6, 2017 by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Overweight people are more likely to become infected with a virus, even after being vaccinated. Although overweight people have active antibody responses, it is believed that components of T cells (specialized in the immune system) are compromised.
- A study of 1,200 individuals vaccinated over the course of two flu seasons found that twice as many obese participants contracted the flu compared to those of healthy weight.
- When young people gain weight, they experience metabolic changes that affect their cells (including immune cells), similar to older people. Consequently, an overweight 25-year-old can have the same immune response as a healthy 85-year-old.
With time, science will reveal more information about it.
And hopefully, more attention will be paid to the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on susceptibility and survival.
If there is a time to be more attentive than ever to our last line of defense, it is now.
Several risk factors may not change, but being overweight is literally in your hands.
You can change your choices, and over time, your results will change.
I implore you: do not continue increasing the consumption of processed foods and consuming alcoholic beverages with abandon due to the anxiety that confinement generates in you.
Better, be prudent and start a new relationship with your diet and your lifestyle.
It is often a challenge, but you have to take it up.