Processed foods and the loads of nutrient-stripped salt that they typically contain could be a leading cause of autoimmune disease, according to new research. Scientists from Yale University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany found that excess consumption of refined and processed salt increases one's risk of developing conditions like asthma, eczema, alopecia and multiple sclerosis (MS).
An international team of researchers sampled 2,124 fast food items from places like Domino's Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway, testing them for salt content. They found that most of the products sold at these establishments contain excessively high amounts of processed salt -- and in the U.S., at levels up to twice that of other countries.
Even when some of the products tested were branded as being "low-fat" or "low-calorie," researchers found that they contained unseemly amounts of salt to compensate for their lack of flavor. The result of this, they say, is that certain cells in the body become hyperactive in the presence of this salt, potentially triggering an inflammatory process that can lead to autoimmune disease.
"This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases," stated the authors.
Refined salt associated with autoimmune-promoting inflammation
In order to fend off harmful pathogens, the body relies upon T cells, which help activate the immune cells responsible for targeting bacteria or viruses. Included in the T cells category is a subset of cells known as Th17, which adaptively develop, as needed, to address incoming threats.
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