Newswise — 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.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.