That Burger Harms Not Only Your Waistline, But Your Immune System Too

A junk food diet high in saturated fat begins to harm our immune system even before the weight gain begins to show, a new study finds.

AsianScientist (Jul. 27, 2016) – A study in Australia has found that a junk food diet high in saturated fat begins to harm our immune system even before the weight gain begins to show.

The research, carried out by scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and published in the Journal of Immunology, reveals that the over-consumption of saturated fats may actually be a form of malnutrition that triggers the immune system to start attacking healthy parts of the body.

To identify how a diet rich in saturated fats can impact immune function, the researchers examined the impact of dietary lipids—saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids—on a class of immune cells known as T-cells.

“We fed mice a Western-style high-fat diet for nine weeks to observe if this diet would impact the T-cell response before the animal gained weight,” said lead author Dr. Abigail Pollock from the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging at UNSW.

“Despite our hypothesis that the T-cell response and capacity to eliminate invading pathogens would be weakened, we actually saw the opposite: the percentage of overactive T-cells increased.”

One clinical ramification of overactive T-cells may be autoimmune diseases, where the immune system begins attacking healthy parts of the body. They include diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

UNSW Scientia Professor Kat Gaus said the other unexpected finding was that T-cell responses were altered even in the absence of obesity and obesity-induced inflammation.

“Our lab has previously shown altering the lipid content of T-cell membranes artificially changes the T-cell response. So, we devised this experiment to see if the same structural changes would occur naturally through a high fat diet,” said Gaus.

The research team’s results reveal that dietary lipids do in fact directly influence T-cell activation and responsiveness by altering the composition and the structure of the T-cell membrane.

“Lipids in the diet change the abundance of lipids in the cell membrane, which in turn changes the structure of the cell, altering the responsiveness of the T-cells—and changing the immune response,” said Pollock.

The article can be found at: Pollock et al. (2016) Prolonged Intake of Dietary Lipids Alters Membrane Structure and T-Cell Responses in LDLr−/− Mice.


Source: UNSW; Photo: Pexels.
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