Fast food elicits same immune system response as bacterial infection, study finds

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A diet heavy in fast food triggered the same immune system response in mice as a bacterial infection, leaving potentially permanent biological changes, according to a study published in Cell.

For the study, researchers fed mice a "Western diet" high in saturated fats, sugar and salt for one month. These mice demonstrated an increased number of immune cells in their blood, which usually occurs when a bacterial infection is present. Researchers examined the immune cells and discovered the mice's diet activated certain genes responsible for stimulating the immune system's defense against a biological attack or infection.

Past research has shown these genes are reprogrammed after an infection to prepare for another immune system attack.

"It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory," Eicke Latz, MD, PhD, a researcher from the University of Bonn in Germany, told Science Alert. "After an infection, the body's defenses remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack."

Researchers identified the same trend in the mice. One month after they returned to a normal diet, the mice's genetic reprogramming was still evident, making them more susceptible to inflammation linked with diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

"If the same sort of reaction is happening inside our bodies, then it's more evidence for the link between an unhealthy diet and health problems such as type II diabetes, obesity and issues with the heart," the researchers told Science Alert.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

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