Fat and Inflammation: How your fat is harming you

Author: Emily Seddon   Date Posted:11 July 2016 

Heard of meta-inflammation? No? Well, it may be occurring in your body fat right now.

Body Fat

Adipose tissue is normally known as body fat, and we’ve all got it! Some more than others…

Adipocytes (fat cells) are found all over the body, but most commonly in connective tissue under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and around internal organs (visceral fat). This tissue plays an important role in our body, both storing and releasing energy, protecting our inner organs, producing hormones and releasing immune cells in response to signals from the rest of the body.

While adipose tissue does play an important role in homeostasis, both too much and too little body fat can lead to serious health implications.

Excess body fat may also be driving inflammation.


Inflammation is a word we hear connected to almost every health condition.

It is a key reaction of our immune system that our body attempts for self-protection. We need it to occur in order to remove injurious tissue, harmful stimuli, irritants, pathogens and damaged cells. It is the beginning of the healing process.

For example, when you get an infection in a cut, your body will respond with the classic signs of inflammation:

  • Redness.
  • Heat.
  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Potential loss of function.

This is to contain the infection, stop it from spreading and damaging the body further.

Too much inflammation.

When inflammation continues in a chronic or unchecked manner it can produce more damaging effects on our tissues, including stimulating systemic inflammation, scarring of connective tissue (fibrosis) and cell death. This is commonly seen in autoimmune, cardiovascular and metabolic conditions.

Fat and Inflammation are linked:

It has long been established that increased weight may come as a result of inflammation (and its relationship with hormones such as insulin and leptin), however science is beginning to recognise that increased adipose tissue may be driving an inflammatory response as well. This is called meta-inflammation.

How does this happen? Let us explain:

  1. When fat tissue grows from prolonged positive energy balance, the adipocytes stretch in size, grow in number and require more oxygen to survive as a result.
  2. When they don’t get this oxygen, they become damaged and begin to release inflammatory signals. These stimulate a low but steady production of inflammatory immune cells (macrophages and lymphocytes) to clean up the damage
  3. The low level of inflammation is not high enough to switch to an anti-inflammatory state, which resolves the inflammation process. Instead, the immune cells accumulate to provoke a wider pro-inflammatory state throughout the body.
  4. The inflammatory pathways impact on hormonal and metabolic function, impairing insulin tolerance, leading to greater fat mass accumulating in the body furthering the cascade of events.

How does meta-inflammation affect me?

Many conditions are exacerbated by inflammation. The more inflammation, the more pain and swelling. Causes of inflammation are usually identifiable by the classic signs of inflammation that we mentioned earlier, redness, heat, pain and swelling.

A silent, hidden cause like meta-inflammation is hard to identify as a trigger and therefore even harder to curb, negatively contributing to your health status.

What can I do?

Luckily, there are a few things you can try after identifying this as important to you and your health. Some things to try to reduce meta-inflammation and allow your body to switch to anti-inflammatory pathways are to:

Written by Emily Seddon
Emily Seddon

Emily (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a love of science. Growing up with a hippy mum and dad, Emily grew used to thinking outside the box for her own health. She has since completed a degree in Health Science, majoring in Naturopathy, combining that passion for healthy living with scientific and traditional evidence to help others to live happy and healthy lives.

She loves using herbal and nutritional medicine to treat ailments and lives by the philosophy of "there is no such thing as too much tea."

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