Does inflammation cause weight gain?

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

last updated: Jul 27, 2023

5 min read

Body weight maintenance can be more complicated than simply tracking the calories you eat and what you burn. Other factors, such as stress, sleep, your environment, and processes like inflammation can all influence your appetite, and your body weight. 

Research points to chronic inflammation and body weight being interconnected in a number of ways: reducing inflammation may be an important part of long-term weight loss, and losing weight is also a strategy to reduce inflammation

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What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s healing process and immune system. Our body uses inflammation to heal after exposure to an illness and defend against becoming sick. If you get injured, sick, or exposed to a virus or bacteria, your body releases immune cells and small proteins that target the intruder.

Acute inflammation refers to short-term inflammation, while chronic inflammation lasts far longer, continuing for months or years. Acute inflammation is typically caused by illness or an injury that is resolved relatively quickly. Chronic inflammation could result from frequent exposure to an irritant, or an autoimmune disease. Research shows chronic inflammation is linked to multiple diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, cancer, psoriasis, depression, and renal disease. 

Signs of inflammation include:

  • Pain

  • Redness

  • Changes in function - limited muscle or joint movement

  • Swelling

  • Heat

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Generally feeling unwell

Sometimes the immune system reacts to non-harmful agents or the body’s own cells leading to allergies or auto-immune diseases. 

Does inflammation cause weight gain?

If you’ve been struggling with weight gain, you may be wondering how inflammation influences weight loss efforts. Generally, changes in body weight can be one of the signs of chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation may reduce the effectiveness of a normal weight control system in the body. Adipose cells (body fat) release the hormone leptin to regular appetite and energy balance. Normally, when body fat increases leptin levels go up as a natural way to regulate body weight. Leptin causes appetite to decrease so you feel less hungry until excess weight is lost. 

Research also suggests that increased inflammation may lead to leptin resistance, making it less effective at suppressing appetite to control weight. Leptin resistance interferes with the brain's normal feedback to control weight. So, appetite remains increased and metabolism may slow to hold on to more weight. 

Inflammation can lead to other metabolic changes. Research suggests that chronic inflammation could cause insulin resistance, a condition where the body doesn’t properly respond to insulin leading to high blood sugar and diabetes

The studies above suggest there is a relationship between increased inflammation and weight gain. However, researchers are still working to understand the exact relationship between chronic inflammation, metabolic health, and weight. And not all research agrees that inflammation causes weight gain. A 2019 study found that increased inflammatory markers were associated with obesity but didn’t predict weight gain. 

Does inflammation get worse with weight gain?

Weight gain and having more fat tissue, especially belly fat, are linked to more inflammation. 

Research suggests excess body fat increases two C-reactive protein (CRP) and decreases adiponectin. Why is that important? The hormone adiponectin supports regulating glucose levels, fatty acid breakdown, insulin sensitivity, and provides anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Low levels of adiponectin are associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, abnormal metabolism, coronary artery disease, and stroke. 

The liver releases C-reactive protein into the bloodstream and its levels rise with inflammation. A 2019 study found that inflammatory markers, like C-reactive protein and interleukin-1, Interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha were associated with obesity. Their findings suggested that inflammation may be a result of obesity, but didn’t predict weight gain. 

Higher levels of inflammation could also come from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a condition in which your body becomes resistant (or less sensitive) to the hormone insulin. One side effect of insulin resistance is weight gain, and in turn weight gain can fuel insulin resistance. Inflammation, weight gain, and insulin resistance can start to fuel each other, creating a cycle where weight gain causes more insulin resistance which causes more inflammation and weight gain. 

What can cause inflammation?

Inflammation can be caused by one or a combination of factors. Here are six common causes of inflammation.

Illness or injury

Short-term inflammation is frequently caused by an illness, like the flu or a cold, and injuries, like rolling an ankle or falling. These result in an immune response to heal the injured area and inflammation tends to go away quickly once healed.


Many people feel stressed balancing work and personal life. Finding ways to manage your stress levels can be important for inflammation and overall health. 

Research shows that chronic stress interrupts the body’s immune function, and fuels inflammation. This increases the risk of developing stress-related diseases potentially because of the chronic mild inflammation. Stress could also increase your risk of weight gain.

It’s important to find effective ways to manage your stress levels. Consider trying one of these stress management techniques:

  • Go for a walk

  • Spend time outside

  • Talk with a friend

  • Meditate

  • Dance

  • Listen to music

  • Do yoga

  • Talk with a mental health professional

Poor sleep

Consistent, high-quality sleep is important for both physical and mental health. Not getting enough sleep and inconsistent sleep schedules can increase inflammatory markers in the body.

Try these tips to help support better, more consistent sleep:

  • Aim for going to bed and waking up at the same time most days

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening

  • Eat a balanced diet

  • Exercise regularly

  • Sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet environment

  • Limit exposure to electronic devices before bed

Interruptions in gut health

Your gut microbiome contains trillions of microorganisms that support digestion, immune health, and overall health. The bacteria in your gut can either positively or negatively affect inflammation. Poor gut health can lead to increases in inflammation and other digestive issues. 

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Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for a number of health concerns, including chronic inflammation. Research shows people who smoke have significantly higher inflammatory markers than non-smokers. 

Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can be an important piece of reducing inflammation. Talk with a healthcare provider if you’re having trouble quitting smoking.

Inflammatory foods

Some foods, like highly processed and high-sugar foods, are more likely to increase the amount of inflammation in your body. 

Eating foods or drinks high in added sugar is associated with increased low-grade chronic inflammation. And sugar intake impacts both your gut microbiome and metabolic health. So, eating a diet high in sugar could increase your inflammation in multiple ways.  

Besides inflammation, higher sugar consumption is linked to excess belly fat and an increased risk of obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and insulin resistance.

Anti-inflammatory foods

It’s important to limit exposure to irritants and promote overall healthy habits, like helping your body with anti-inflammatory foods. 

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on eating whole foods that are minimally processed. The foods you eat can influence gut health, sleep quality, weight, and overall health. Typically, an anti-inflammatory diet is full of whole food, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.  A diet rich in these healthy nutrients can produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, helping to reduce chronic inflammation.

Foods that may help reduce inflammation include

  • Vegetables - especially dark, leafy greens (spinach and kale)  and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and Brussel sprouts)

  • Fruit 

  • Whole grain

  • Lean proteins

  • Fatty fish - salmon, mackerel, etc

  • Healthy oils such as olive oil

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Beans and legumes

Cooking meals from scratch can be one of the best ways to use these anti-inflammatory foods. But sometimes cooking may not fit into a busy schedule. When purchasing more convenient options be sure to look at the ingredient list and try to opt for the choice with minimal ingredients and processing.


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

July 27, 2023

Written by

Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Fact checked by

Felix Gussone, MD

About the medical reviewer

Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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