Processed foods may increase likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases

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In today's hustle and bustle world, processed foods are commonplace time-savers. But that convenience factor may come with a bigger price tag than previously known, says an international team of researchers. In findings published earlier this year in Autoimmunity Reviews, researchers from Israel and Germany present evidence that processed foods weaken the intestine's resistance to bacteria, toxins and other hostile nutritional and not nutritional elements, which in turn increases the likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases.

The study was led by Professor Aaron Lerner, of the Technion Faculty of Medicine and Carmel Medical Center, Haifa and Dr. Torsten Matthias of the Aesku-Kipp Institute (Germany).

The research team examined the effects of processed food on the intestines, and on the development of autoimmune diseases - conditions in which the body attacks and damages its own tissues. More than 100 such diseases have been identified, including type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune hepatitis, and Crohn's disease.

"In recent decades there has been a decrease in incidence of infectious diseases, but at the same time there has been an increase in the incidence of allergic diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases," said Prof. Lerner. "Since the weight of genetic changes is insignificant in such a short period, the scientific community is searching for the causes at the environmental level."

In their study, the researchers focused on the dizzying increase in the use of industrial food additives aimed at improving qualities such as taste, smell, texture and shelf life, and found "…a significant circumstantial connection between the increased use of processed foods and the increase in the incidence of autoimmune diseases."

Many autoimmune diseases stem from damage to the functioning of the tight-junctions that protect the intestinal mucosa. When functioning normally, tight-junctions serve as a barrier against bacteria, toxins, allergens and carcinogens, protecting the immune system from them. Damage to the tight-junctions (also known as "leaky gut") leads to the development of autoimmune diseases.

The researchers found that at least seven common food additives weaken the tight-junctions: glucose (sugars), sodium (salt), fat solvents (emulsifiers), organic acids, gluten, microbial transglutaminase (a special enzyme that serves as food protein "glue") and nanometric particles.

"Control and enforcement agencies such as the FDA stringently supervise the pharmaceutical industry, but the food additive market remains unsupervised enough," said Prof. Lerner. "We hope this study and similar studies increase awareness about the dangers inherent in industrial food additives, and raise awareness about the need for control over them."

The researchers also advise patients with autoimmune diseases, and those who have a family background of such diseases, to consider avoiding processed foods when possible.


  1. Rudolph Gartner Rudolph Gartner United States says:

    This is a fabulous post, and highly timely. The conclusions and warnings from these bright researchers help to confirm the concerns that many folks, myself included, have, and have had for many years now, about the chemical creations that industrial food scientists have come up with to treat grocery shelf food products so that they become more sightly to the eyes, easy to swallow, and match our manipulated taste buds, as well as last longer on store shelves and on home shelves. It is now the time for the FDA to ask the Congress for legislative authority to regulate the food additives in grocery food products. It is high time that the public demand of food manufacturers that they return to producing wholesome, safe, and naturally tasteful food products. The public will be willing to pay for these, but the food industry needs also to absorb some of this future cost by halting its incessant drive to make more profit from dangerous and cheap food alteration manufacturing processes. Thank you.

  2. Chris P Chris P United States says:

    As a person with MS who has eaten a low fat, low salt, low added sugar, vegetarian, 95% planted based diet I find this study ridiculous and condescending. It hints that one is responsible for developing this disease. Blaming the victim mentality. Granted I am no fan of processed foods and agree with Mr. Gartner that the FDA should be regulating it more.  But I have avoided processed foods as much as possible my whole life and it didn't help me from getting this disease.  

    It seems to be the popular trend for "scientists" to do studies on diets and then concluded that every disease is a result of what people eat. I feel that a reputable scientist should dig a little deeper into the more complex concepts instead of going  for these simple, trendy ideas.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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