Did we need another reason to avoid putting fast food additives into our bodies? If dumping phthalates and a host of other problematic food additives into your body isn’t enough to make you avoid it, now a new study has demonstrated that the additives in fast food actually trigger your immune system to react as if you have been exposed to a bacterial infection. Over time, the inflammation triggered by the immune response will leave you at risk for serious lifelong health conditions like arteriosclerosis and diabetes. Yikes.
“Fast food sensor” in the immune cells
“It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory,” explains Prof. Dr. Eicke Latz, Director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist at the DZNE. “After an infection, the body’s defenses remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack.” Experts call this “innate immune training.” In the mice, this process was not triggered by a bacterium, but by an unhealthy diet…
The scientists were further able to identify the responsible “fast food sensor” in immune cells. They examined blood cells from 120 subjects. In some of the subjects, the innate immune system showed a particularly strong training effect. In these subjects, the researchers found genetic evidence of the involvement of a so-called inflammasome. Inflammasomes are key intracellular signaling complexes that recognize infectious agents and other harmful substances and subsequently release highly inflammatory messengers. How exactly the NLRP3 inflammasome recognizes the exposure of the body to Western type diets remains to be determined.
Interestingly, in addition to the acute inflammatory response, this also has long-term consequences for the immune system’s responses: The activation by Western diet changes the way in which the genetic information is packaged…Unhealthy eating causes some of these normally hidden pieces of DNA to unwind, similar to a loop hanging out of a ball of wool. This area of the genetic material can then be read much easier as long as this temporary unwrapping remains active. Scientists call these phenomena epigenetic changes.
“The inflammasome triggers such epigenetic changes. The immune system consequently reacts even to small stimuli with stronger inflammatory responses.”
-Dr. Eicke Latz, Director, Institute for Innate Immunity, University of Bonn
Dramatic consequences for health
These inflammatory responses can in turn accelerate the development of vascular diseases or type 2 diabetes…Wrong nutrition can thus have dramatic consequences. In recent centuries, average life expectancy has steadily increased in Western countries. This trend is currently being broken for the first time: Individuals born today will live on average shorter lives than their parents. Unhealthy diets and too little exercise likely play a decisive role in this.
Journal Reference: Anette Christ, Patrick Günther, Mario A.R. Lauterbach, Peter Duewell, Debjani Biswas, Karin Pelka, Claus J. Scholz, Marije Oosting, Kristian Haendler, Kevin Baßler, Kathrin Klee, Jonas Schulte-Schrepping, Thomas Ulas, Simone J.C.F.M. Moorlag, Vinod Kumar, Min Hi Park, Leo A.B. Joosten, Laszlo A. Groh, Niels P. Riksen, Terje Espevik, Andreas Schlitzer, Yang Li, Michael L. Fitzgerald, Mihai G. Netea, Joachim L. Schultze, Eicke Latz. Western Diet Triggers NLRP3-Dependent Innate Immune Reprogramming. Cell, 2018; 172 (1-2): 162 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.013