FoodFacts.com is aware that the rates of autoimmune diseases have been on the rise for quite some time. Instances of diseases like Multiple Sclerosis have increased in the population with little explanation as to why. While it’s understood that people can be genetically predisposed to these diseases, the rates of autoimmune disease have risen fairly quickly.
Now, new research suggests that salt consumption may be an underlying reason for the rapid increases. A new report published in the journal Nature has reported that a high-salt diet may increase levels of a specific immune cell that is linked with autoimmune diseases. These cells are linked with inflammation. The report was culled from three different studies from Harvard and Yale universities. It was noted that mice that had been genetically engineered to develop Multiple Sclerosis got much worse when they were fed a diet comparable to a high-salt Western diet when compared with mice who were fed a diet more moderate in salt.
The results suggest that salt intake may play a role in the triggering of autoimmune diseases in individuals who are already genetically predisposed. It appears that the development of diseases like MS may not just be about genetics after all, but rather a combination of genetics and environmental factors. While the paper links salt and MS, the researchers can’t say how much salt makes the difference.
One of the studies used in the report involved the cell function of 100 healthy individuals. It was noted that when people in the study ate fast food more than once per week, there was a significant increase in levels of destructive inflammatory cells. These cells respond to injury from foreign invaders – but in individuals with autoimmune diseases, the cells actually attack healthy tissue. The autoimmune cell known as a T helper 17 or a Th17 seems to be the cell affected by the high salt diet. The Th17 cells can promote inflammation that’s key to defending against pathogens. But they are also linked to autoimmune diseases.
Researchers then moved to studying the genetically engineered mice. All of the mice involved would develop MS. Based on the observations of the individuals in the previous study, the mice were divided into two groups. One group which had been fed the high salt diet experienced the production of an increased amount of Th17 cells. These were the mice that developed a more severe form of Multiple Sclerosis. The mice that were fed a regular diet experienced less severe disease.
The researchers are anxious for these findings to be studied in the human population. There is already a study that’s been approved that will test the effects of lowering the dietary salt levels of people with MS to see if it might improve symptoms of the disease. While it may be years before the link between salt intake and autoimmune disease can be confirmed, the researchers think that it may be advisable for MS patients to go ahead and lower their daily sodium levels.
FoodFacts.com is always encouraged when science finds implications of links between our diets and our health. The benefits of making small dietary changes can be enormous. The idea of treating chronic, debilitating disease through diet can help us all live longer, healthier lives and may help alleviate the need for powerful medications that often cause physically and emotionally stressful side effects. We look forward to future studies on this important subject.