It looks as though our Western Diet (WD) can cause long-term changes to our immune systems.
Researchers found that the WD causes larger immune reactions with repeated feedings, and more aggressive responses by the immune system even in small doses.
The Western Diet is characterized by a high consumption of red meat, refined sugars, saturated fats, with low consumption of fiber. This includes fast-foods and processed-foods.
In mice who were fed WD foods, researchers found a large immune reaction similar to what would be seen in a bacterial infection. After mice were taken off of the WD foods, the immune response diminished, but epigenetic changes (changes in DNA) remained activated.
What is an epigenetic change?
Your DNA is quite literally a set of instructions for your cells. When one segment becomes “activated” it overrides the default instructions, telling your cells to follow the new instructions instead.
In this case, these new instructions tell the immune system to react more strongly to smaller doses of WD foods.
In the beginning, your body might send out a few immune cells, let’s call them Ring-Wraiths, to deal with one lone, pesky hobbit.
After repeated stimulation and changes to your DNA, your body quite literally sends out the entire army of Mordor to fight one little hobbit, which is quite an aggressive response.
This has large implications in cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes due to an increase in arterial plaque, which can create clots, clogs, strokes, and heart-attacks.
What is the immune response, and why does it have large implications?
As part of the innate immune response, your body sends lipids (like cholesterol) and immune cells to the source of damage, like blood vessel walls. With continued immune response, more and more lipids and immune cells congregate, which leads to traffic jams, plaque formation, and potentially clots.
With continued immune stimulation due to frequent feedings of WD foods, lipids and immune cells quite literally pile up. The worst news is that you may not be in the clear even you reduce your intake of these foods.
Why is that?
Because you’ll get the same or larger immune response with less and less stimulation from WD foods (think Ring-Wraiths vs Army of Mordor). This is due to the epigenetic changes in your DNA discussed above.
Cue plaque build-up (atherosclerosis), clots, strokes, and heart-attacks.
The moral of the story?
Yes, you should eat less fast-foods and processed foods. Yes, you should eat a wider variety of meats. You should definitely eat more fiber.
Unfortunately, this means that you probably should stop eating fast-food and processed foods altogether, and no, your genes don’t believe in moderation.
If you want to live a long time, you should consider doing the following:
- Eat responsibly raised meats (grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught, organic), shooting for a palm-sized serving each meal.
- Eat a variety of fat sources, and steer clear of vegetable oils like canola oil, shooting for about a 2-thumb serving each meal.
- Ask your waiter to cook your food in grass-fed butter or olive oil.
- Eat a variety of organic vegetables and aim for 1-2 fists of them at every meal.
- Yes, you should eat many colors of them too.
- Minimize sugars, and try to avoid refined sugars (think cookies, cake, and candy bars) at all costs. Fruit is a better alternative, and after 2-4 weeks off of your cookies, cakes, and candies, you won’t crave them anymore. If you do eat them, they’ll taste gross and sickly sweet. Again, your genes don’t believe in moderation.
Lastly, I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. I’m just a nerd who likes to read research, and I figured I’d be productive by sharing it with you.
I’m a nerd, I know.
I read it so you don’t have to.
ps. If there’s anything you’re curious about, and don’t have the time, patience, or know-how to learn about it, let me know. I’ll be sure to post on it if it’s worth-while, or I’ll answer you directly!
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You can find my sources below:
- Anette Christ, Patrick Günther, Mario A.R. Lauterbach, Peter Duewell, Debjani Biswas, Karin Pelka, Claus J. Scholz, Marije Oosting, Kristian Haendler, Kevin Baßler, Kathrin Klee, Jonas Schulte-Schrepping, Thomas Ulas, Simone J.C.F.M. Moorlag, Vinod Kumar, Min Hi Park, Leo A.B. Joosten, Laszlo A. Groh, Niels P. Riksen, Terje Espevik, Andreas Schlitzer, Yang Li, Michael L. Fitzgerald, Mihai G. Netea, Joachim L. Schultze, Eicke Latz. Western Diet Triggers NLRP3-Dependent Innate Immune Reprogramming. Cell, 2018; 172 (1-2): 162 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.013
- University of Bonn. “Fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term: Study shows that even after a change to a healthy diet, the body’s defenses remain hyperactive.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180111141637.htm>.
- Cover image courtesy of Pixabay.