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  • Jefferson Adams

    Does Obesity Play a Major Role in Triggering Autoimmune Diseases?

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Image: Wikimedia Commons--Victovoi
    Caption: Image: Wikimedia Commons--Victovoi

    Celiac.com 11/28/2014 - According to a new study, obesity plays a major part in triggering and prolonging autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis.

    The study appeared recently in Autoimmunity Reviews by Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, the Laura Schwarz-Kipp Chair for Research of Autoimmune Diseases at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Head of Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases at Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.



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    According to the research, obesity erodes the body's ability to protect itself, triggering a pro-inflammatory environment that promotes the development of autoimmune diseases, hastens their progression, and impairs their treatment.

    For some time now, says Professor Shoenfeld, researchers have been aware of the “negative impact of contributing disease factors, such as infections, smoking, pesticide exposure, lack of vitamins, and the like. But in last five years, a new factor has emerged that cannot be ignored: obesity.”

    According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of the global population is overweight or obese, nearly a dozen autoimmune diseases are now associated with excess weight, which now impact nearly 5-20% of the global population. That is why, according to Shownfeld, it is “critical to investigate obesity's involvement in the pathology of such diseases."

    The main culprit is not fat itself, but adipokines, compounds secreted by fat tissue, which impact numerous physiological functions, including the immune response.

    In tandem with their own study, Shoenfeld and his colleagues reviewed 329 studies from across the globe that focused on the connections between obesity, adipokines, and immune-related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriatic arthritis, and Hashimoto thyroiditis.

    "According to our study and the clinical and experimental data reviewed, the involvement of adipokines in the pathogenesis of these autoimmune diseases is clear," says Shoenfeld. "We were able to detail the metabolic and immunological activities of the main adipokines featured in the development and prognosis of several immune-related conditions."

    One of the team’s more interesting findings was that obesity also promotes vitamin D deficiency, which, “once corrected, alleviated paralysis and kidney deterioration associated with the disorder… [and] improved the prognosis and survival of the mice.”

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    Interesting article. For quite awhile I thought that celiac disease caused obesity. I thought that a person with celiac disease ate more because they weren't absorbing the nutrients from their food and their bodies were trying to get more nutrients. Until now, I never considered that it was the other way around, that it was obesity that was causing their disease.

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    Autoimmune diseases run in my family, on both sides. Many of us have always been thin, others were slightly overweight or became overweight when they became older. In our family trees, weight doesn't seem to be a factor in autoimmune diseases, including celiac and Hasimoto's.

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    That is infuriating, we are born genetically predisposed to celiac disease, we become obese trying to get nutrients our villi can't absorb.

    I agree, J. I haven't always been obese, but did gain 100 pounds in the year prior to diagnosis, and was still hungry all the time. Since then, I've lost more than half the weight and am no longer so hungry.

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    Complete nonsense! Before being diagnosed with celiac, I was unable to keep weight on me no matter how much I consumed. Even while eating over 20,000 calories a day! gluten-free diets have very high GI levels and often celiac patients develop diabites 2 as well as many other auto immune illnesses.

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    My son was diagnosed with celiac disease last summer at 19 years of age. He is too thin -- has always been too thin -- and struggles to gain weight. While I can accept that obesity might exacerbate an autoimmune condition because of inflammation, it is genetic susceptibility that puts people at risk. If you don't have the genes, you don't get the disorder. What about all the obese people who do not have autoimmune diseases? Autoimmune thyroid disease wreaks havoc on metabolism which can lead to weight gain. Many celiacs also have thyroiditis. Many others also have Type 1 Diabetes.

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    Obesity does not play a "major" role in triggering an autoimmunity, nor can anything prolong an autoimmunity because once you have developed an autoimmunity you have that for life. Period. It does not just go away if you stop being obese. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease I had never been considered even overweight ever in my life much less obese. I would personally need a much more realistic explanation for me to ever pay that price to read the actual medical paper.

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    Complete nonsense! Before being diagnosed with celiac, I was unable to keep weight on me no matter how much I consumed. Even while eating over 20,000 calories a day! gluten-free diets have very high GI levels and often celiac patients develop diabites 2 as well as many other auto immune illnesses.

    That may be true in your case, but you are not "most people." The science is pretty clear that large numbers of people diagnosed with celiac disease are either overweight, or obese. Regarding this article, the science says that obesity is a major factor in the development and prolonging of autoimmune diseases. It does not say that thin, or non-obese people can't develop these diseases.

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    Obesity does not play a "major" role in triggering an autoimmunity, nor can anything prolong an autoimmunity because once you have developed an autoimmunity you have that for life. Period. It does not just go away if you stop being obese. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease I had never been considered even overweight ever in my life much less obese. I would personally need a much more realistic explanation for me to ever pay that price to read the actual medical paper.

    Read my response above. That may be true in your case, but you are not "most people." The science is pretty clear that large numbers of people diagnosed with celiac disease are either overweight, or obese. Regarding this article, the science says that obesity is a major factor in the development and prolonging of autoimmune diseases. It does not say that thin, or non-obese people can't develop these diseases.

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    That is infuriating, we are born genetically predisposed to celiac disease, we become obese trying to get nutrients our villi can't absorb.

    The study says that obesity is a major factor in the development and prolonging of autoimmune diseases. It does not say that thin, or non-obese people can't develop these diseases. Basically, according to this study, if an otherwise healthy, thin person became obese, they would face in increased risk of developing autoimmune conditions, and that those conditions would be harder to control than if that person were thin. I hope that helps.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.


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