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Breaking the Obesity-Inflammation Cycle

Would Taming Inflammation Help Fight Obesity? Maybe, Study Suggests
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 2, 2008 -- Curbing inflammation in a key part of the brain may help keep down weight, a new study shows.

Obesity is known to increase inflammation throughout the body. The new study -- published in tomorrow's edition of Cell -- shows that inflammation may be a player, and not an innocent bystander, in the development of obesity.

The researchers -- based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, San Diego -- focused on two things:

  • The hypothalamus, a brain region that regulates the body's energy balance.
  • A "master switch" of inflammation -- called IKK beta/NF kappa B -- that's usually turned off.

In lab tests on mice, that "master switch" of inflammation turned on in the hypothalamus of mice on a high-fat diet. "Chronic overnutrition" flipped on the inflammation switch, the researchers note.

With that master switch turned on in the hypothalamus, the mice gained weight and became resistant to insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar) and leptin (a hormone involved in feeling full).

Next, the scientists used genetic engineering to flip that master switch off in the hypothalamus of other mice. Those mice were "significantly protected" from becoming obese, even on a high-fat diet, the researchers write.

Still, you wouldn't want to turn that master switch off forever, because inflammation is one of the body's tools for fighting infection.

Figuring out how to selectively control that switch in the hypothalamus might be a new strategy for curbing obesity and related diseases, the researchers conclude. In the meantime, the time-tested methods of a healthier diet and a more active lifestyle are still the cornerstones of managing weight. Easier said than done? Health care professionals can help with the process.

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