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Junk food, immune system tilt

Il junk food knocks the immune system. How and why, he explains it a recent study by the University of Bonn. (1) Inflammation acute, DNA alterations, acceleration of pathologies such as arteriosclerosis e diabetes.

Junk food, immune system tilt

The immune system reacts to one diet unbalanced - for excess sugar, fat and calories - as if it were a bacterial infection.

A strong inflammatory reaction is thus activated, which continues even after re-establishing balance in the diet.

Inflammation, in the long term, it can lead to the development of atherosclerosis e diabetes, diseases whose occurrence is in fact increased significantly in the last decades.

Il recent study 'Global Burden of Diseases' had already blamed unbalanced diets for 20% of premature deaths, following analyzes conducted in 195 countries from 1990 to 2015. Research from the University of Bonn can help explain why. 

Junk food, research from the University of Bonn

Research from the University of Bonn - which will shortly be published in the magazine Cell - involved research groups in the Netherlands, the United States, Norway and Germany. 

The scientists subjected the mice, for a month, to a modern 'western diet', rich in sugar and fat, as well as low in fiber

'The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of mice, in particular granulocytes and monocytes'explains researcher Anette Christ. 

The next 'genomic studies  showed that the Western diet had activated a large number of genes in progenitor cells. The genes involved included those responsible for proliferation and maturation', adds Prof. Dr. Joachim Schultze del Life & Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES, University of Bonn) and del German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE). 

Il junk food induces thus the immune system activates an aggressive reaction, resulting in acute inflammation. And despite the subsequent restoration of a balanced diet, immune cells and their precursors remain active. Since the junk food attack has genetically reprogrammed many of the cells involved.

The 'sensor junk food'in immune cells

'It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory', explains prof. Eicke Latz, director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist of the DZNE. 'After an infection, the body's defenses remain in a kind of alert state, so they can respond more quickly to a new attack.'. 

In the study, this process was not triggered by a bacterium, but by an unhealthy diet. And the scientists were also able to identify the 'sensor junk food'responsible for activating the immune defenses. 

A complex reporting process intracellular (cd inflammasome, NLRP3) recognizes infectious agents and other harmful substances - such as junk food in this case - and releases highly inflammatory messengers.

It also triggers a modification of the genetic information. ‘The inflammasome triggers such epigenetic changes', continues prof. Latz. 'The immune system reacts accordingly to even small stimuli with stronger inflammatory responses.'

Junk food, health hazards

These inflammatory responses they can in turn accelerate the development of vascular disease or type 2 diabetes. In arteriosclerosis, for example, the inflammatory reaction contributes directly to plaque growth, as newly activated immune cells constantly migrate into the walls of altered vessels. And when the plaques get too large they can burst, causing blood to clot and blockage of blood vessels that can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

'These findings have social relevance very important', explains prof. Latz. 'The basics of a healthy diet need to become a much more important part of education than they currently are. 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 each day. We should allow them to make informed decisions about their eating habits'.

Le LOBBY di Big food, in the meantime, managed to block the introduction of nutritional profiles, which the European Commission should have introduced 9 years ago (!) to prevent the use of claim nutritional and health benefits on junk food. With the unfortunately also complicity of Italian lobbyists and politicians. Shame!

Dario Dongo


(1) Anette Christ, Patrick Günther, Mario AR Lauterbach, Peter Duewell, Debjani Biswas, Karin Pelka, Claus J. Scholz, Marije Oosting, Kristian Haendler, Kevin Baßler, Kathrin Klee, Jonas Schulte-Schrepping, Thomas Ulas, Simone JCFM Moorlag , Vinod Kumar, Min Hi Park, Leo AB Joosten, Laszlo A. Groh, Niels P. Riksen, Terje Espevik, Andreas Schlitzer, Yang Li, Michael L. Fitzgerald, Mihai G. Netea, Joachim L. Schultze und Eicke Latz: 'Western diet triggers NLRP3-dependent innate immune reprograming', up Cell, 11.1.2018, DOI: 10.1016 / j.cell.2017.12.013

(2) Latz and Schultze are members of the excellence group 'Immunosensation', which studies the innate immune system. Latz is considered a leader in the field of innate immunity and was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his work in December 2017. This is considered to be one of the most prestigious scientific awards in Germany.

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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