Bad habits are easy to pick up but very difficult to undo. This could be anything including binge eating, drinking too much booze, over- or under-sleeping, and eating too much junk food. It is now emerging that fast foods will not just make you overweight and obese but also have the potential to damage your immune system.
A recent study that was carried out by the University of Bonn linked fast food with an overdrive of the immune system leading to inflammation. The study further connected the inflammatory response to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. The study concluded that fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term, and even after a change to a healthy diet, the body’s defenses remain hyperactive.
This was a lab study where the investigators placed mice on a fast-food diet for a month which was high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fiber. It was observed that the animals developed a strong inflammatory response throughout the body, similar to what happens following an infection. The mice also developed an increase in the number of certain immune cells called granulocytes and monocytes indicating that progenitor cells in the bone marrow were involved.
When the investigators offered the mice their typical cereal diet for the next month the inflammation subsided. However, they observed that something key did not change: the programming of the progenitor cells. The genes that had been switched on during the fast food phase were still active and capable of triggering inflammation. The innate immune system has a memory which “records” such changes and stores them. This may also explain why overweight children are more likely to become obese in adulthood than their slimmer counterparts.
Wrong nutrition can cause severe long term consequences. Once you get hooked on fast foods, your body’s immune system is set on overdrive. This is likely to initiate a process of acute, then chronic inflammation, and even after you switch to healthier meals, your immune system may not be able to readjust. This means that you will still be prone to an immune system overdrive and the risk for chronic inflammation which has been linked to heart disease and stroke as well as autoimmune diseases. Currently, researchers are also trying to establish the link between chronic inflammation and cancer.
Fast foods are also notoriously linked to obesity and food addiction disorders. The high fat and high salt content may be responsible for the addictive qualities. One review published in NCBI suggested that fast foods cause psychological dependence and obesity over time. The study mentioned that most fast foods are usually accompanied by soda which increases the sugar content 10-fold. Fast foods are high in calories but low in fiber and nutritive value.
1. NCBI (2011): Is fast food addictive? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21999689
2. Cell (2017): Western Diet Triggers NLRP3-Dependent Innate Immune Reprogramming. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(17)31493-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867417314939%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
3. Live Science (2018): What Is Inflammation? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/52344-inflammation.html