Is obesity an inflammatory condition?

Nutrition. 2001 Nov-Dec;17(11-12):953-66. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(01)00672-4.


Obesity may be a low-grade systemic inflammatory disease. Overweight and obese children and adults have elevated serum levels of C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and leptin, which are known markers of inflammation and closely associated with cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular causes of death. This may explain the increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic diseases in the obese. The complex interaction between several neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, neuropeptide Y, leptin, acetylcholine, melanin-concentrating hormone, ghrelin, nitric oxide, and cytokines and insulin and insulin receptors in the brain ultimately determines and regulates food intake. Breast-feeding of more than 12 mo is associated with decreased incidence of obesity. Breast milk is a rich source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) and brain is especially rich in these fatty acids. LCPUFAs inhibit the production of proinflammatory cytokines and enhance the number of insulin receptors in various tissues and the actions of insulin and several neurotransmitters. LCPUFAs may enhance the production of bone morphogenetic proteins, which participate in neurogenesis, so these fatty acids might play an important role in brain development and function. It is proposed that obesity is a result of inadequate breast feeding, which results in marginal deficiency of LCPUFAs during the critical stages of brain development. This results in an imbalance in the structure, function, and feedback loops among various neurotransmitters and their receptors, which ultimately leads to a decrease in the number of dopamine and insulin receptors in the brain. Hence, promoting prolonged breast feeding may decrease the prevalence of obesity. Exercise enhances parasympathetic tone, promotes antiinflammation, and augments brain acetylcholine and dopamine levels, events that suppress appetite. Acetylcholine and insulin inhibit the production of proinflammatory cytokines and provide a negative feedback loop for postprandial inhibition of food intake, in part, by regulating leptin action. Statins, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma binding agents, non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs, and infant formulas supplemented with LCPUFAs, and LCPUFAs themselves, which suppress inflammation, may be beneficial in obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Breast Feeding*
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Child
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Leptin / blood
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Prevalence


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Leptin
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • C-Reactive Protein