The Western diet, characterized by excessive intake of sugary drinks and fast food items, spurs immune system mechanisms that may negatively affect the body in the long run, according to a study published in the journal Cell. The study also revealed that the long-term effects may persist despite a change in dietary habits. A team of experts led by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany examined the effects of Western diet on mice as part of the study.
The research team studied three groups of mice, one of which served as a control group given a standard chow diet, while a second group was fed a Western diet. A third group was fed a Western diet and then subsequently changed to standard chow diet. The scientists observed that mice fed with a Western diet developed inflammation as expected.
The experts found that an unhealthy Western diet prompted the intra-cellular sensor NLRP3 inflammasome to activate the animals’ immune system in such a way it does when a bacterial infection is underway. Likewise, data from bone marrow cell and splenic macrophage analysis revealed that the inflammatory response remained active even in the group of mice that transitioned from an unhealthy Western diet to standard healthy diet. The findings demonstrate that the bone marrow cells remember the negative effects of an unhealthy diet on the body, the research team stated.
“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,” researcher Anette Christ told Science Daily online.
According to the researchers, the NLRP3 inflammasome also appeared to mitigate the onset of Western diet-induced systemic inflammation and myeloid precursor programming. This provides a potential avenue in fighting diet-induced pathology, the researchers said.
“It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a memory. After an infection, the body’s defenses remain in a hyperactive, alarmed state, so that it can respond more quickly to a new attack. Our team of researchers discovered that the Western diet has a similar impact, and, therefore, these findings have enormous relevance to society and potential therapeutic implications,” researcher Dr. Eicke Latz explained in a PR Newswire release.
Experts stress on the adverse health effects of the immune response
According to the research team, the persistent inflammatory responses may speed up the onset of vascular diseases or type-2 diabetes. The scientists explained that the inflammatory reaction may promote the growth of vascular plaques – which are made up mostly of lipids and immune cells – as newly activated immune cells tend to migrate into the affected blood vessel walls.
The researchers cautioned that this may eventually lead to plaque buildup and subsequent blood clots, which in turn may result in atherosclerosis, stroke, or heart attack. The experts also warned that the prevalence of Western diet and lack of physical activity may lead to shorter life span. (Related: Ever notice how you’re still hungry after eating fast food? Here’s why: Your brain detects the nutrients (or lack thereof) in food as you eat it, ground-breaking new study finds.)
“These findings therefore have important societal relevance. 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,” Dr. Latz said.
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