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Oct 04, 2013

Inflammation Helps Identify Unhealthy Individuals

Study finds that poor metabolic health is associated with inflammation in obese and non-obese patients.

Simply put, obesity increases risk for heart diseasediabetes and even death. But as we know, everyone is different and obesity can harm certain individuals’ health more than others. According to a recent study, inflammation may help explain this puzzling phenomenon and help identify which obese patients are at greatest risk for chronic disease.

The term “metabolic” refers to the internal processes involved in the body’s normal functioning, and certain individuals are “metabolically” healthier than others. Regardless of cardiovascular risk factors like obesity, people whose bodies function more properly on a day-to-day basis are better off than those whose bodies don’t function as well. And it’s possible that select obese individuals are metabolically healthier than non-obese individuals, and vice versa. So how can we determine which of us are metabolically healthy vs. unhealthy?

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, markers of inflammation may help distinguish which obese individuals are at greatest risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Researchers identified 2,047 Irish patients who enrolled in The Cork and Kerry Diabetes and Heart Disease Study, and each person  fell into one of two categories: obese (BMI > 30) or non-obese (BMI < 30). Using standard markers to identify which patients were metabolically healthy vs. unhealthy, they found that patients who were metabolically healthy had less inflammation than those with poor metabolic health. And this finding was true for both obese and non-obese individuals.

So how can these findings help benefit patients? Authors believe that screening for inflammation could identify individuals with poor metabolic health who, as a result, are at greatest risk for heart disease. By pinpointing these individuals (both obese and non-obese), we can then use certain strategies to improve their heart health and reduce risk for developing heart disease. Further research is needed on the topic, but opportunities to help prevent heart disease in at-risk individuals are promising, especially with nearly two-thirds of the U.S. overweight or obese.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • How is inflammation linked to heart health?
  • Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection. Although it’s not proven that inflammation actually causes heart disease, research shows that many heart disease patients have heightened markers of inflammation. It’s possible that inflammation may be a sign of heart disease or a response to it, and further research is needed to better understand the role of inflammation on cardiovascular risk.

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