Here is a scary truth bomb… the immune system reacts the same to a high fat and high cholesterol diet as it does to a bacterial infection. Yuck! Eating a diet high in fast food and other unhealthy foods can make your body’s defences more aggressive long term. This is even the case after you have switched to a healthier diet. Let’s look at the effects of this…

‘Western Food’

A recent study at the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn explored the interesting effects that fast food has on your immune system. The results were concerning to say the least.

For one month straight, they placed mice on a typical western diet. That means high fat, high sugar and low fibre. During the month, the mice developed a strong inflammatory response very much like the reaction caused by an infection from dangerous bacteria.

The unhealthy diet increased the number of immune cells that the mice developed in their bodies. These immune cells not only affect the bone marrow but also the body’s ability to procreate and mature.

The researchers then offered the mice their usual diet of cereal for a further 4 weeks and the inflammation reduced. But what did not reduce was the additional immune cells. The ‘western diet’ had quite literally reprogrammed the mice’s bodies.

Immune Memory

Scientists have recently discovered that your immune system has somewhat of a memory. After it has suffered an infection, the body remains on high alert in case the same thing happens again and its defences are required. In this case, the high alert was not caused by infection, but by an unhealthy diet.

So what does it mean? Effectively, an unhealthy diet changes the way that our genetic information is packaged. A consistent unhealthy diet increases the amount of inflammation in your body. That can lead to all kinds of health risks and the increased chance of contracting certain diseases.

It also means that your immune system is always on high alert. Typically it would only be triggered by things that were a legitimate threat to your health. The immune system’s defences would kick in to fight the illness and you would theoretically recover. But now, any little thing can trigger those defences. So when the big threats appear, your immune system is overworked and underprepared to deal with them. Illness can hit you harder and recovery times increase.

Even Scarier

It is not great to take a week to recover from a cold as opposed to the usual 3 days. But even scarier than an increased recovery time is the exposure to more threatening diseases. It can increase your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You are at a much higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Life expectancy has been steadily on the rise in the Western world. However, with our penchant for unhealthy diets, this number could be on the decline for the first time in hundreds of years. To fight this, we need to instill healthy eating habits in our children. In the early years, we choose the foods that we feed our children, so we need to make sure they are the right healthy choices.