A new study by UNC Charlotte scholars is shedding light on the connection between diet and a common childhood disease.
Using national health data, the researchers determined children who ate certain types of food or dealt with food insecurity may be more likely to contract the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
Ahmed Arif, an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Services Department of Public Health Sciences, co-authored the new study, which considered EBV infection among U.S. children ages 6 to 15 using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
EBV is a common virus that often causes no symptoms on its own; it's better known as a cause of infectious mononucleosis and having a connection to some cancers.
The NHANES data revealed that adolescents who consumed beans, red meat and 100 percent fruit juice daily might see increased odds of EBV as compared with adolescents who consumed the same products on a monthly basis.
The study also suggested that adolescents who were not fed a balanced meal and had to rely on low cost food had significantly increased odds of EBV, though this finding was weakened once adjusted for possible response biases. Researchers have previously found a connection between low socioeconomic status and heightened rates of EBV infection. The study noted that diet plays an important role in the strength of a person's immune response.
According to study co-author Arif, while eating beans often carries health benefits, some types are not as strong nutritionally. "Baked beans are also rich in sodium, sugar and fat, and depending on the type, rich in uric acid. Some beans contain lectins that are linked to irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, allergies and arthritis. EBV infection has been associated with all of these medical conditions."
Arif said the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends limiting red meat consumption to no more than two servings per week.
"We don't know the exact mechanism that may predispose children eating diet rich in beans and red meat daily to EBV infection. But, it appears exercising moderation may not be a bad idea," stated Arif
He noted the nature of any link between fruit juice consumption and EBV infection also isn't immediately known. He said because this study is the first of its kind, the results need to be confirmed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. However, "suffice it to say that programs promoting healthy eating and food security to enhance the immune system for the prevention of various viral infections should be encouraged," he added.