What the Heck is Inflammation? Why Should You Care?

The term “inflammation” usually puts me in skim mode when I’m reading article.

I feel like my time is limited and I want to quickly move on to something more interesting like fat loss strategies. I’m going to do my best to give you the Cliff Notes version of what inflammation is. Earlier this week, Brad Pilon, just completed the newest version of Eat Stop Eat which now goes into detail about inflammation.

He sent me an early copy of the book and also a document with 15 scientific studies he referenced in the book. He told me it was cool to share this info with readers of Fitness Black Book. So I will try to hit some good points from the notes Brad sent me without making you feel like you are reading a text book.


[Happy Autumnal Equinox! This girl doesn’t look so happy about the whole situation. Looks like she needs to drink some of that coffee.]

What the Head of A Major Pharmaceutical Company Told Me

Ten years ago, I was an executive recruiter who placed Ph.D. level medicinal chemists into pharmaceutical companies. These are the scientists who discover the lead compounds that eventually get turned into drugs that help people.

It was kind of an intimidating job, because often times these high-level scientists would list CEO’s and VP’s of major pharmaceutical companies as their references. It was my job to contact these CEO’s and to conduct reference checks.

Let me tell you, it is not easy to get a hold of a high level executive in companies that do tens of billions of dollars per year. I would always think to myself “who am I to talk to this ultra-smart super successful person”. One executive level chemist in particular told me something I will never forget…

“Never, Ever Allow Yourself to Become Overweight for an Extended Period of Time”

This guy spent a lifetime studying chronic disease and he spent close to 30 minutes drilling this point into my head. He said the number one thing that will drastically decrease your chances of getting any disease is to never allow yourself to become overweight.

He wasn’t just talking heart disease and things we normally associate with being overweight either (obviously this isn’t a guarantee, there are countless examples of fit people who develop cancer and other life threatening diseases).

He went on to tell me that the mass media understates the cause and effect of obesity and disease…and that if the general population wasn’t overweight, that the drug companies would lose billions.

I Didn’t Know What Inflammation Was at that Time

Inflammation is a way that the body heals itself. When you get a cut, the body elicits an inflammatory response. It sends blood cells to the injured area. The redness and swelling initiates the healing process. This is Acute inflammation and it is a good thing! The problem is Chronic inflammation.

What If the Entire Body Was Inflamed?

Chronic inflammation is when your entire body is experiencing this “injury response”.

The huge problem here is that when your immune system is trying to repair your entire body, it can’t defend against cancer and other diseases. Your body also produces cholesterol as an inflammatory response. This works well in the short term, helps heal wounds, but develops plaque in the arteries if the body is chronically inflamed.

Honey...I'm Hooome!
[Don’t be scared by the next section! I recommend just  reading the points that are bolded with a “*”. These are Brad’s findings from these studies. I included additional information just for those who want to dig deeper. This section is meant to be cliff note style. I’ll wrap up and summarize the post after Brad’s notes.]

1) Brad’s Notes – Inflammation Causes

This is where Brad’s research notes really help clear up some confusion. I am going to summarize the notes he emailed me a few days ago. This helped me get a full grasp on this complex topic.

* Overeating Can Cause an Inflammation Response

“An excess glucose infusion, possibly analogous to a binge episode of overfeeding, led to a decrease in antioxidants, increase in liver oxidative stress, and systemic inflammatory response.”

Ling PR, Smith RJ, Bistrian BR, 2007 Acute effects of hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia on hepatic oxidative stress and the systemic inflammatory response in rats. Crit Care Med 35: 555-560.

* Markers of Overeating, Such as Leptin, are Involved in the Inflammatory Response

“Leptin regulates proinflammatory responses.”

Loffreda S, Yang SQ, Lin HZ, Karp CL, Brengman ML, Wang DJ, Klein AS, Bulkley GB, Bao C, Noble PW, Lane MD, Diehl AM. Leptin regulates proinflammatory immune responses. FASEB J. 1998 Jan;12(1):57-65.

* Another Marker of Overeating, Insulin, Increases Markers (IL-6) of Inflammation

“Insulin, a key regulator of glucose and lipid metabolism in adipose tissue, increases IL-6 release from human adipocytes and 3T3-L1 cells.”

Vicennati V, Vottero A, Friedman C, Papanicolaou DA. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. Hormonal regulation of interleukin-6 production in human adipocytes. 2002 Jul;26(7):905-11.

* Inflammation Can Lead to Insulin Resistance

“Chronic high IL-6 can lead to insulin resistance.”

Senn JJ, Klover PJ, Nowak IA, and Moony RA. IL-6 Induces Cellular Insulin Resistance in Hepatocytes. Diabetes. 2002 Dec;51(12):3391-9.

* More Evidence That Overeating is Linked to Inflammation

“Acute hyperglycemia in normal people and people with impaired glucose tolerance induces an increase in plasma IL-6, TNF- that hyperglycemic spikes affect cytokine concentrations more than continuous hyperglycemia, at least in the short term, and suggest that an oxidative mechanism mediates the effect of hyperglycemia.”

Esposito K, Nappo F, Marfella R, Giugliano G, Giugliano F, Ciotola M, Quagliaro L, Ceriello A, Giugliano D. Inflammatory cytokine concentrations are acutely increased by hyperglycemia in humans: role of oxidative stress. Circulation. 2002 Oct 15;106(16):2067-72.

* Both Obesity and Overeating Lead to Inflammation

“High Leptin concentrations may lead to an abnormally strong immune response predisposing to autoimmune phenomena.”

Matarese G. Moshos S. Mantzoros CS. Leptin in immunology. J Immunol. 174:3137-3142.

2) Brad’s Notes – Preventing Chronic Inflammation

Here are the notes on studies showing ways to reduce or prevent chronic inflammation. Again, just read the parts that are in bold if you are someone who likes to get the main points quickly.

* Eating Less is Good

“Calorie restriction prevents the inflammatory response induced by 14 d of bed rest.”

Bosutti A, Malaponte G, Zanetti M, Castellino P, Heer M, Guarnieri G, Biolo G.mCalorie restriction modulates inactivity-induced changes in the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein and pentraxin-3. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Aug;93(8):3226-9. Epub 2008 May 20.

* Eating Less is Really Good

“A low-calorie diet is associated with an improvement in the systemic inflammatory status. This seems to be due to energy restriction rather than to adipose mass loss, since inflammatory levels return to baseline soon after weight stabilization.”

Salas-Salvadó J, Bulló M, García-Lorda P, Figueredo R, Del Castillo D, Bonada A, Balanzà R. Subcutaneous adipose tissue cytokine production is not responsible for the restoration of systemic inflammation markers during weight loss. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Dec;30(12):1714-20. Epub 2006 Apr 25.

* Having Less Fat is Also Good

“Weight (fat) loss, induced by a negative energy balance, reduces inflammation by decreasing the production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines by adipose tissue.”

Esposito K, Pontillo A, Di Palo C, Giugliano G, Masella M, Marfella R, Giugliano D. Effect of weight loss and lifestyle changes on vascular inflammatory markers in obese women – A randomized trial. Jama-Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003;289:1799–1804.

* Fasting is Good

“Ghrelin levels increase following fasting and chronic food deprivation. Ghrelin exerts potent anti-inflammatory effects.”

Li WG, Gavrila D, Liu XB, Wang LX, Gunnlaugsson S, Stoll LL, McCormick ML, Sigmund CD, Tang CS, Weintraub NL. Ghrelin inhibits proinflammatory responses and nuclear factor-kappa B activation in human endothelial cells. Circulation. 2004;109:2221–2226.

* Calories Over Quality…Nothing Wrong With Less Calories and Better Quality Too.

“There is some evidence to suggest that meal composition may play a small role in the inflammatory response, but the total body of evidence seems to suggest that it is the caloric load that is most important.”

Manning PJ, Sutherland WH, McGrath MM, de Jong SA, Walker RJ, Williams MJ. Postprandial cytokine concentrations and meal composition in obese and lean women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Sep;16(9):2046-52.

* It’s Not the Make Up of the Diet as Much as it Is the Diet.

“Weight loss achieved through different diet programs (low-fat, high-protein, or hypocaloric diet) in combination with exercise or nutritional counseling ranged from 3 to 15 kg resulting in concomitant reduction in C-reactive protein levels by 7 to 48%.”

Basu A, Devaraj S, Jialal I. Dietary factors that promote or retard inflammation. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2006; 26

________End of Notes________

A Few “Takeaways” from These Notes

Well it looks like it is best to stay somewhat lean and not overeat on a regular basis. I occasionally like to eat really big meals, but I typically feel terrible after.

If you do want to avoid inflammation it makes sense to avoid or limit massive meals. You also want to keep insulin levels low and avoid blood sugar spikes.

Eating too much and too often will often lead to chronically high insulin levels…this is one of the biggest causes of inflammation. This also causes weight gain, which adds more inflammation.

What is the best way to reduce insulin levels and virtually eliminate inflammation?


A 24 Hour Fast Has a More Dramatic Effect on Reducing Insulin than Any of the “Insulin Based” Diets

There are several popular diets that are aimed at keeping insulin at low and stable levels: The Paleo Diet, Mediterranean Diet, South Beach Diet, Atkins, The Zone, etc. There is nothing wrong with eating this way, but nothing comes close to fasting for a way to get insulin under control.

An Excerpt from “Eat Stop Eat”

“Fasting for as little as 24 hours has been shown to drastically reduce your insulin levels. This is especially important because in order to burn body fat, insulin levels must be very low. Simply ‘evening them out’ may not be enough, especially if this ‘evening out’ of your blood sugar levels is due to chronically high insulin levels.”

Fasting and Inflammation

[Diagram Courtesy of Eat Stop Eat™ With Brad Pilon’s Permission.]

Short Term Fasting + Low to Moderate Carbs = Success

Some of the leanest people I know combine short term fasting with low to moderate carbs. As Brad Pilon points out in the studies as well as in Eat Stop Eat, lower calories and calorie deficit have a greater impact than eating low carb. You can get really lean with short term fasting and calorie control and prevent chronic inflammation…keeping the carbs somewhat under control just makes this way of eating that much more effective.


* Don’t Become Overweight or Obese
* Limit Massive Meals
* Don’t Go Too Nutty on the Carbs
* 1-2 Short Term Fasts Per Week

Note: As I mentioned earlier, Brad Pilon just wrapped up his newest version of Eat Stop Eat. Everyone who has ordered in the past gets the new version this week for free. Make sure and read it, because this new version really shows you the big picture of the heath benefits of this method of eating. If you don’t have this ebook, I give it my highest recommendation. Almost every person I respect in the fitness industry uses Brad’s version of Intermittent Fasting with great success.

One Last Thing: I started this blog to help people lose weight and keep that weight off. My intention isn’t to make people who are overweight feel bad.

My hope is this article pushes more people into action and towards a healthy state.

If you are reading this and have weight to lose, then go for it! I am here to help as are a lot of others who respond to comments in the comment section.

60 thoughts on “What the Heck is Inflammation? Why Should You Care?”

  1. This is really good information. I eat healthy for the most part, yet I constantly overeat. I have had success in the past with short fast. I suffer from inflammation, and I feel good about the information here. Though I am not on medication, recently my BP, Sugar, and Cholesterol have been very elevated. I walk for and hour three to four days a week. I am dedicated to being free of this problem.
    Thank you for taking the time to care and post this information.

  2. Thanks Rusty. I really like this site u have.
    I recently started working out and jump rope is what is really kicking my butt.
    I appreciate u trying to help people lose weight its hard when one doesn’t have the confidence and strength they need to start doing something to change their life. I know that ur website is going to be on my FAVORITES from now on for advise and support. Thank you again.
    All of ur posting really help.

  3. Hi Rusty, just found your website and I love it. So many great tips. A question about the inflammation article…my doctor just told me avoiding dairy is a good thing for general health so I picked up soy milk. I’m not a big milk drinker, just for cereal and coffee but the estrogen/inflammatory implications of soy concern me. Do you have any other suggestions for alternatives? Or is that not enough soy to make a big difference?

  4. Great info and much to consider, However, I would not suggest a diabetic go on a fast. Since being diagnosed at an early age with child onset diabetes. If I went longer than 9 hours on a normal day without eating I’d be face down on the floor. Good article though!!

  5. Rusty-

    I think you might have mentioned this in your post on walking, but I have heard GREAT things about the anti-inflammation properties of a simple brisk walk.

    Just think of all the disease that can be prevented by simply eating less and being more active in daily life…

    Then throw in some resistance training, and you can look great and be incredibly healthy.

  6. Pingback: No Money in the Cure
  7. Hello katie,

    I don’t know how to handle with your problem but one thing i want to share to you. We know that lack of sleep is not good and it affects our body. It weakens us physically. Take a good rest. Take care of your body.

    Check out Denver Chiropractor for our healthy tips and wellness.

  8. I am fit and 19 years old but I have been having chronic IF for several months. I thought it was due to lack of sleep and some stress. Does lack of sleep directly affect IF or does it affect the production of Leptin and Insulin levels which then trigger the IF?

    Ways I can tell I have chronic IF: joint pain (knees, ankles, shoulders), scratches turn into HUGE welts, carrying objects that dig into my arms leave huge puffy areas, touching any pimples on my face leaves me looking like I got stung by yellowjackets, and a puffy bloated feeling like I am always on my period.

  9. these are good points that brad has noted. Our body secretes insulin after carb intake and this gets stored as fat. It is important to maintain a good diet and ‘fasting days’ to regulate those insulin levels or screw up their chances to make you fat. However during periods of dieting when you reach a point where your fat loss hits a wall, it is important to realize that the cause is leptin; which reduces the bodys metabolic rate and increases appetite, to regulate leptin the body ironically needs generous doses of carbs, it is therefore important for your dieting campaign to have a few big huge carb heavy meals in them (say 4 days in a month)

  10. Pingback: Free From Foods « x lyssa
  11. This is awesome information. I was overweight for a few years there before taking it off using IF and a caloric restriction. That was a tough way to go. Now I know more, I am simply using Brad’s methods and 2 weekly fasts, and eating the right amount the rest of the week. I will drop down to 1 fast a week or less when I hit my target body fat level. I never would have thought fasting would be so easy. I have never managed a fast in my life and used all the excuses. All I do to get through it is drink water, sometimes green tea. It’s just no big deal!

  12. Hey,

    I am using your Visual Impact Muscle Building book (which, ket me tell you and all the readers who haven’t got it..IS AWESOME!!), but I had a question. I have a good frame, with a decent amount of muscle. But I feel like PHASE 1 from the book makes me feel more inflamed. Can I skip phase 1 and go to Phase II and III, cause I dont want to grow in size anymore.

  13. Hey Rusty – great article to tackle this highly debated topic.
    Certainly cleared the fog surrounded the issue.

    I’ll just confirm that following a fast of 16 hours or more, I always feel less ‘inflamed’ and cleansed 🙂

  14. hi Rusty i have some question and i would really be glad if you answered them.I am 16 years old and i want to have the cam gigandet/Brad Pitt(fight club)body then when i am older i wanna have like the ninja assasin body and my question is should i do some gym workout?becuase i wanna grow taller( i am only 5 and 7 and these guys are 6 and 1 )and i know that some gym workout can make you shorter.Also i dont know how much cardio i should do( i dont go to a gym so if i am only doing cardio i am maybe going to become to thin with no lean muscles)The cardio i am doing are twice a week 30-45 min running,10 min jump rope and then every saturday 2 hours swimming(i wanna have that long and lean body type like Cam also it helps you grow taller)and everyday i do like 10 min yoga stretches to also grow taller.I am gonna add some martial art lessons instead of one running day to help me get a litte more fight body like rain from ninja assassin( i also do 3 times per week your plank exercise to help me get stronger core becuase when rain trained for the ninja assassin he most focused on core exercise rather then builder bigger biceps and he got AMAZING ABS)My diet is like your almost 100% paleo (but then i have my fasting days once a week i cant handle two times)So my questions are(I would really be glad if you answered them)Should i keep doing these kindes of cardio?if i could do gym exercise which should they be to help me get Cam or abs and body type without stopping my growth,Should i keep doing the plank exercise and/or add some upp like rain(farmers walk,hanging knee pullups,6 inches,rotate with barbell weight etc)Thanks Rusty( also this is my dads hotmail)

  15. Hi rusty ive been reading your articles i found them very intersting, ive got one question i lifted for 6 months (the wrong way bulking, using weight gainers creatine etc..)i want to train now correctly on strenght, but i feel like my joints & tendons not even the weight i lift is ready for a 3 or 5 rep routine considering that im still growing.. maybe so what do you think? should i create my routine upon the system you manege here? i mean i feel like i cant create a good workout & ive read every single article in your page, but i ask my self for example Chest eery one day, considering the back chest abs & bicep tricep shoulder split, so for chest i might do barbell bech press and incline dumbell press… considering the recomendation of 2 exercices per body part then where do i put push ups? & what do you think about the cable cross over? & the pec deck? Should really the trainng of an experienced lifter should be the same as some one who is starting?
    Im really confused!!! :S
    Thanx & greetings from mexico!

  16. Hey
    Thanks for the reply
    Unfortunately i’m one like Justin Bieber :/, not fully grown. So what would you recommend for a person like me? What kind of program should i follow for a well defined physique(six pack hopefully) without looking skinny and frail. What would be safe enough for me?
    Thank you so much Rusty 🙂 Really appreciate all the advice.

  17. Many thanks for your response Rusty I will look into getting myself a copy of ESE ASAP. I used to be quite fit and trim in my younger days(I know I’m only 34 but still talking 15-16 years ago now) when I first discovered the gym. This was after a few years lay off from any form of exercise after college. I think unwittingly I was doing a form of IF. I used to only eat in the day time, try to eat as healthily as possible, especially week days and have nothing after about 1700hrs until the following mornings breakfast. I would then go the the gym on weekday evenings about 1930hrs after work and do an hour or so’s cardio on various equipments followed by push ups, pull ups and sit ups every other day. This was usually Monday to Friday mainly although when I got fit I think I was also doing some sat mornings. After training on an evening I would have a sports drink and keep up my fluid in take up until bed but that was it. I lost a lot of weight pretty fast as I recall. I still enjoyed meals out at weekends and used to drink a hell of a lot sat nights out when I was singe but it seemed to really work well. I think it’s only by ready your website over the last few days and your posts on ESE/IF that it made me remember how I used to eat/train. Anyhow, I wanted to know what your thoughts are on this IF method (not eating weekday evenings) / style of training. I guess it still is overall daily / weekly calorie reduction and training / burning fat in a fasted state. Anyhow would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks. Adrian.

  18. Hi Rusty,

    Great post! I came across your site just last week, and from there the eat stop eat book and I must say…it just makes so much sense! I started my first day 2 days ago and it was really hard, but not impossible. I got through it and I know it’s only going to get easier from here. I think it was so hard for me because I’ve always been told you should eat every 2-3 hours to “keep up your metabolism.” So now every 2-3 hours I get hungry because my body is expecting food…

    Anyway, thanks for the great info!


  19. Great post Rusty

    Chronic inflammation is present in all of the chronic “lifestyle” diseases that are eating up huge amounts of our healthcare dollars.

    And with the US of A jumping onto the public healthcare bandwagon, they really should think about preventing inflammation instead of treating all those metabolic syndrome symptoms.

    And thanks for including all of Brad’s references – the fit geek in me is ready to do some research.

Comments are closed.