You don’t need to hear about more high-salt diets causing weight gain, heart problems, and diabetes. You get it all the time. But there’s something you might not know: it can also make you more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis, by impacting your body’s ability to fight infection.
About 23.5 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, but the amount is quickly rising. It is a top 10 cause of death for women in the United States. Some of the more common types of autoimmune disease are multiple sclerosis, alopecia, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, to name a few.
Your body is equipped with an immune system to help fight bacteria, viruses, and other infections. People who have an autoimmune disease don’t get the response from the body to fight these infections, which can attack specific organs or in the worst cases, their entire body. Autoimmune disease is a chronic condition that can be fatal.
A new joint-study from Yale University in the U.S. and the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg in Germany blames refined salts in fast and processed foods as a major contributor in the rising rates of autoimmune disease.
Helper-T cells play an important role in protecting disease and infection from spreading in the body. They are on the front lines of your immune system, ready to combat bacteria and infection. A subset of Helper-T cells, called Th17s, however, play a role in the proliferation of autoimmune disease.
The research conducted by the universities looked at how high-salt diets affect the proliferation of Th17 cells. In a lab setting, mice fed high-salt diet displayed “a dramatic increase” of Th17 cells and as a result, increased inflammation. They also showed a far greater likelihood to develop an autoimmune disease.
Fast food restaurants and processed foods at grocery stores are the main sources of refined salts in America. Lunch meat, bread, salad dressings, and a number of other packaged, preserved goods are the major perpetrators. In fact, many low-fat alternative salad dressings are very high in sodium. For example, a low-fat dressing from an American fast food chain only containing 15 calories/serving has 510 mg of sodium—that’s 1.5 times the amount of the sodium found in the same restaurant’s drumsticks!
A Canadian group researched sodium content in a number of menu items from fast food chains across the globe. They found, on average, American recipes contain twice the salt of their global counterparts. That’s likely the reason why your Big Mac and fries taste different when you travel abroad.
Protecting yourself from autoimmune disease is important, especially as these conditions become more common. The best defense is to limit your intake of processed and fast foods, while paying attention to per serving sodium content on nutrition labels.
Your daily intake of sodium should not exceed 2,400 mg. Make sure to check the labels of any frozen or packaged food that you buy—and choose “low sodium” or “low salt” options when you can.
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