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Scientists Officially Link Processed Foods to Autoimmune Disease

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The modern diet of processed foods, takeaways and microwave meals could be to blame for a sharp increase in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, including alopecia, asthma, and eczema.

A team of scientists from Yale University in the U.S and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany says junk food diets could be partly to blame. [1]

‘This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases,’ they said.

Junk foods at fast food restaurants, as well as processed foods at grocery retailers, represent the largest sources of sodium intake from refined salts.

processed-foods

A study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal highlighted the salt content of 2,124 items from fast food establishments, such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. They found that the average salt content varied between companies and between the same products sold in different countries. [2]

U.S. fast foods are often more than twice as salt-laden as those of other countries. While government-led public health campaigns and legislation efforts have reduced refined salt levels in many countries, the U.S. government has been reluctant to press the issue. That has left fast-food companies free to go salt crazy, says Norm Campbell, M.D., one of the study authors, and a blood-pressure specialist at the University of Calgary.

Many low-fat foods rely on salt – and lots of it – for their flavor. One packet of KFC’s Marzetti Light Italian Dressing might only have 15 calories and 0.5 grams fat, but it also has 510 mg sodium–about 1.5 times as much as one Original Recipe chicken drumstick. Feel like you’re having too much of a good thing? You probably are.

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Bread is the # 1 source of refined salt consumption in the American diet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one 6-inch Roasted Garlic loaf from Subway–no meat, no cheeses, no nothing–has 1,260 mg sodium, about as much as 14 strips of bacon.

How Refined Salt Is Linked To Autoimmune Diseases

The team from Yale University studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These activate and ‘help’ other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria/viruses and battle infections. Previous research suggests that a subset of these cells – known as Th17 cells – also play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.

In the study, scientists discovered that exposing these cells in a lab to a table salt solution made them act more ‘aggressively.’

They found that mice fed a diet high in refined salts had a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems, promoting inflammation.

They were also more likely to develop a severe form of a disease associated with multiple sclerosis in humans.

The scientists then conducted a closer examination of these effects at a molecular level.

Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells by 10 times the average. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells.

Study co-author Ralf Linker from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said: ‘These findings are an important contribution to the understanding of multiple sclerosis and may offer new targets for a better treatment of the disease, for which at present there is no cure.’

Multiple sclerosis develops when the immune system mistakes the myelin that surrounds the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord for a foreign body.

It strips the myelin of the nerves fibers, which disrupts messages passed between the brain and body, causing problems with speech, vision, and balance.

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Another of the study’s authors, Professor David Hafler from Yale University, said that nature had clearly not intended for the immune system to attack its host body, so he expected that an external factor was playing a part.

He said: ‘These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.

 ‘Humans were genetically selected for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no salt. It’s one of the reasons that having a particular gene may make African Americans much more sensitive to salt.

‘Today, Western diets all have high salt content and that has led to an increase in hypertension and perhaps autoimmune disease as well.’

The team next plans to study the role that Th17 cells play in autoimmune conditions that affect the skin.

‘It would be interesting to find out if patients with psoriasis can alleviate their symptoms by reducing their salt intake,’ they said.

‘However, the development of autoimmune diseases is a very complex process which depends on many genetic and environmental factors.’

Stick to Good Salts

himalayan-rock-salt

Refined, processed and bleached salts are the problem. Salt is critical to our health and is the most readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. Our bodies are not designed to process refined sodium chloride because it has no nutritional value. However, when a salt is filled with dozens of minerals, such as the rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt or textured Celtic salt, our bodies benefit tremendously from their incorporation into our diet.

“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,” argues Dr. Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. “We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”

“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr. Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance PH levels in the body.”

Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognized in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. In 90 per cent of cases, asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms.

Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It’s a view that is echoed by other academics, such as David McCarron of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.

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He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with “mineral empty” processed food and fizzy drinks.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives. 

Sources

Study Cited –  Kleinewietfeld, M., Manzel, A., Titze, J., Kvakan, H., Yosef, N., Linker,, R. A., . . . Hafler, D. A. (2013, March 6). Sodium chloride drives autoimmune disease by the induction of pathogenic TH17 cells. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v496/n7446/full/nature11868.html

Dunford, E., Webster, J., Woodward, M., et al. The variability of reported salt levels in fast foods across six countries: opportunities for salt reduction. CMAJ. 2012 Jun 12;184(9):1023-8. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/9/1023.full?sid=23fa046c-bab7-473b-8386-ff1374c107eb

Original Source of Article – McCarthy, A. (2013, March 7). Scientists Officially Link Processed Foods To Autoimmune Disease. Retrieved from http://preventdisease.com/news/13/030713_Scientists-Officially-Link-Processed-Foods-To-Autoimmune-Disease.shtml

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Michelle Toole
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Michelle Toole

Michelle Toole is the founder and head editor of Healthy Holistic Living. Learn all about her life's inspiration and journey to health and wellness.
Michelle Toole
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