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 harming your figure, they can also seriously affect your health.
And some actions you can take, immediately, to avoid continuing to accumulate pounds uncontrollably.
Overweight is an epidemic
Whether you are within the normal range, overweight or obese, the sum of your pounds and body fat index (BMI) play a very important role in your immunity.
Unfortunately, more than ⅔ of Americans are classified as overweight and a surprising 1/3 of them are counted as obese.
On average, this 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 illnesses.
That's 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 can decrease the protective action of the immune system.
- It promotes several chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, cancer, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and intestinal failure.
- It affects sleep patterns by causing a higher body temperature. It also causes snoring or sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea.
Every time you snore, there is a lack of oxygen in your brain, which makes you wake up restless and interrupt deep sleep phases.
- It causes low self-esteem, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety and stress, which can lead you to overeat or have those binges that make it seem like you are going to use up the entire fridge (with emotions of guilt and shame included).
All of this can become a vicious cycle that makes you sick and contract 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? So broaden your mind and keep reading because later I will show you some simple steps that cost nothing and you can do at home.
If you have medical problems, I recommend taking your strategy to another level. Seek the help of a dietitian and personal trainer to guide you towards a better lifestyle.
It will be very important to have a blood test to check your markers of inflammation, because studies have shown that the more inflammation there is in the body, the less likely your immune system will be to defend you from viruses and the flu.
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 their immune function affected. 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, eliminate dead or damaged tissues, and protect against foreign substances.
- Natural dysfunction of killer cells, which destroy other infected and cancerous cells, in addition to regulating immune responses.
- Reduced function of macrophages and dendritic cells.
- Decreased response to antigen/mitogen stimulation.
Now, you must be wondering, "What does that all 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, hospitalized patients with obesity are more likely to develop secondary infections and complications, such as sepsis, pneumonia, bacteremia, and wound and catheter infections than patients with a normal body mass index.
Why do you think they send obese people to lose significant amounts of weight before undergoing surgery that involves the use of the operating room? Overall, 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. 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 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.
On the contrary, 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, increasing the chances of infection and speeding up the body's aging process.
Eating little protein also increases the risk of protein-energy malnutrition, associated with significant alterations 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 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 consumption.
- Practice intermittent fasting with the support of a doctor. Studies have shown that it helps with fat loss in obese patients.
- Reduce simple carbohydrates such as sweets, 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 found in avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, and walnuts.
- Eat two cups of whole fruit and at least three cups of vegetables per day. Choose fruits with a lower glycemic index such as 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 live longer, healthier lives. Also, there is evidence that their 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 doing it moderately has been reported to increase certain immune cells, while exercising too intensely (without adequate rest) increases stress on the body and puts a person at greater risk of infection.
- Tip: try to practice at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. You can divide it into 5 30-minute sessions per week.
- Tips: Park further away, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk with a friend after meals and during work breaks.
If you feel like you are making progress, you can incorporate strength training as muscle development 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 run.
Vaccines and BMI above 25
Thanks to previous research on the flu and the increase in data caused by the current situation, doubts about the effect of being overweight on the immune response are being clarified.
If you are overweight and your goal is to stay safe during the pandemic, don't wait for months to pass to eventually receive a vaccine that will make the world a safe place.
This plan may not protect you for the following reasons:
- Obesity may 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 have a higher chance of becoming infected with a virus, even after being vaccinated. Although overweight people have active antibody responses, T cell components (specialized in the immune system) are thought to be compromised.
- A study of 1,200 vaccinated individuals 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 changes in metabolism that affect their cells (including immune cells), similar to older people. Consequently, an overweight 25-year-old may have the same immune response as a healthy 85-year-old.
Over time, science will reveal more information about this.
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 be modified, 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 your consumption of processed foods and consuming alcoholic beverages with abandon due to the anxiety that confinement generates in you.
Better yet, be prudent and start a new relationship with your diet and your lifestyle.
It is often a challenge, but it must be taken on.