Fast Food May Damage the Immune System

Sunday, January 14, 2018 - 09:59

German scientists from the University of Bonn have discovered that the immune system responds to a fast food-style Western diet the same way as it would react to a bacterial or viral infection.

The immune system reacts similarly to a high fat and high calorie diet as to a bacterial infection. This is shown by a recent study led by the University of Bonn, Science Daily reports.

Particularly disturbing: Unhealthy food seems to make the body's defenses more aggressive in the long term. Even long after switching to a healthy diet, inflammation towards innate immune stimulation is more pronounced. These long-term changes may be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis and diabetes, diseases linked to Western diet consumption.

The scientists placed mice for a month on a so-called "Western diet": high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fiber. The animals consequently developed a strong inflammatory response throughout the body, almost like after infection with dangerous bacteria.

"The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice, especially granulocytes and monocytes. This was an indication for an involvement of immune cell progenitors in the bone marrow," Anette Christ, postdoctoral fellow in the Institute of Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn explains.

"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 research involved groups from the Netherlands, the USA, Norway and Germany. Latz and Schultze are members of the excellence cluster "ImmunoSensation," which investigates the innate immune system. Latz is considered a leader in the field of innate immunity and he has been awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his work in December 2017. This is considered one of the most prestigious science awards in Germany.

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