We’re constantly told about the health risks associated with fast food. It’s high in salt and fat and most is low in nutritional value and sometimes processed beyond recognition. But new research suggests it may have another impact on your health: Making your immune system more aggressive.
Researchers at the University of Bonn found that the immune system reacts similarly to a high-fat and high-calorie diet as it does to harmful bacteria. In other words, your body is treating fast food like an infection, and exposing it to unhealthy food over time may result in a more aggressive immune system. But, no — this isn’t an excuse to make a trip to the drive-thru and load up on value meals.
Those involved with the study think this link between fast food and the immune system may have played a part in the development of diseases like diabetes and arteriosclerosis, which are linked to “Western diets” (i.e., those high in fat, high in sugar and low in fiber).
In the study — which was conducted on mice — even once the subjects were switched back to their normal low-fat diets, although their inflammation went down, the genetic reprogramming of their immune cells stayed the same.
“It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory,” professor Dr. Eicke Latz, director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist at the DZNE explains in a statement. “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.”
This medical phenomenon is known as innate immune training, and in the mice in this study, it was not triggered by a bacterium, but by an unhealthy diet.
The authors point to the fact that life expectancy is decreasing in some Western countries where high-fat diets and low levels of exercise have become the norm.
“These findings therefore have important societal relevance,” Latz explains in the statement. “The foundations of a healthy diet need to become a much more prominent part of education than they are at present. Only in this way can we immunize children at an early stage against the temptations of the food industry. Children have a choice of what they eat every day. We should enable them to make conscious decisions regarding their dietary habits.”