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Does Losing Weight Lower Your Immune System?

By Suzanne Allen ; Updated August 14, 2017

Weight loss occurs when energy intake is less than the energy expended. One means of losing weight includes restricting calories and engaging in physical activity. The intensity and duration of exercise may affect your immune functioning. Additionally, your body’s fat reserves, dictated by the calories you consume, may alter your body’s response to acute and chronic conditions.

Moderate Exercise

Exercise is often used to expend energy for weight loss. Individuals engaging in moderate physical activity report fewer colds than their sedentary counterparts do, according to a 2000 study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.” Additionally, moderate exercisers use fewer sick days from work, experience fewer respiratory infections and observe shorter duration of illness. Moderate exercise does not elevate stress hormones that suppress your immune functioning. A 2011 animal study published in the “International Journal of Exercise Science” revealed moderate exercise and a low-fat diet significantly decrease weight and increase immune functioning.

Extreme Exercise

Vigorous exercise may potentially lower your immune functioning. Olympians -- who often engage in extreme exercise during peak training months -- report having a lower resistance to upper respiratory tract infections, colds and sore throats. According to a 2001 literature review by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, over-training is associated with physical illnesses. Thus, the intensity of your workout or calorie expenditure is indicative of your infection risk.

Moderate Caloric Restriction

Moderate caloric restriction increases longevity and boosts the immune system to chronic conditions, according to Michigan State University. However, researchers found greater calorie consumption and fat reserves yield a better prognosis in flu outcomes. The flu naturally curbs the body’s appetite, but subsequent eating behavior can dictate the rate an individual overcomes the flu. According to the MSU study, mice engaging in a calorie-restricted diet lost more weight, possessed longer recovery times and revealed increased mortality rates than their non-restricting counterparts.

Overweight Status

Overweight status is a risk factor for poor immune functioning. Fat tissue generates immune hormones. Specialized immune hormones called cytokines react to areas of infection and bodily injuries. According to University of New Mexico researcher Len Kravitz, excess body fat can cause these hormones to overreact, contributing to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is associated with diabetes and heart disease. Weight loss decreases the circulating immune hormones contributing to this inflammation.

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