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Link between autoimmune disease and processed food

An autoimmune disease is where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, instead of reserving this defense mechanism for invading pathogens. This attack leads to tissue damage and can cause abnormalities to organs, and can lead to altered organ growth or altered organ function. Organs at risk include heart, lings, kidneys and the liver. An example is the heart disease postmyocardial infarction syndrome. To add to this, other autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroiditis and Crohn’s disease.

Processed food is a wide ranging term. Under FDA (Food and Drug Administration) definitions, “processing” not only refers to additives; it can also cover freezing and canning. While these methods of food preservation are unlikely to cause damage; additives may. There have been links to additives and obesity, for example (a subject Digital Journal reported on in 2015.)

Considering a possible connection between an increase in processed foods and autoimmune disease, a study was conducted to ascertain if any relationship exists between these two variables.

For this activity, researchers called out seven food additives, including sodium, glucose, fat solvents, gluten, nanometric particles, organic acids, and microbial transglutaminase (an enzyme used as a food protein “glue”).

A resultant study showed weakened tight junctions in the intestine occurred in relation to these additives. The consequence of this is the weakening allows intestinal bacteria (the microbiome), and other foreign bodies, to enter the blood stream. It is thought the concentration of pathogens is associated with the development of autoimmune diseases.

It could be, therefore, that some processed foods, if eaten regularly, have an association with certain diseases, particularly diseases associated with ageing. More research will be required to confirm or deny if this correlation can be established as definite causation.

The findings are published in the journal Autoimmune Reviews. The paper is titled “Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease.”

In related news, two food emulsifiers called carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate 80, common to products like ice cream, have been linked with inflammation and obesity (see the Nature paper “Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome.”)

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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