Increased dietary salt intake can induce a group of aggressive immune cells that are involved in triggering and sustaining autoimmune diseases. This is the result of a study conducted by Dr. Markus Kleinewietfeld, Prof. David Hafler (both Yale University, New Haven and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, and Harvard University, USA), PD Dr. Ralf Linker (Dept. of Neurology, University Hospital Erlangen), Professor Jens Titze (Vanderbilt University and Friedrich-Alexander-Universitt Erlangen-Nrnberg, FAU, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) and Professor Dominik N. Mller (Experimental and Clinical Research Center, ECRC, a joint cooperation between the Max-Delbrck Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin, and the Charit Universittsmedizin Berlin and FAU) (Nature, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature11868)*. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of fighting pathogens.
In recent decades scientists have observed a steady rise in the incidence of autoimmune diseases in the Western world. Since this increase cannot be explained solely by genetic factors, researchers hypothesize that the sharp increase in these diseases is linked to environmental factors. Among the suspected culprits are changes in lifestyle and dietary habits in developed countries, where highly processed food and fast food are often on the daily menu. These foods tend to have substantially higher salt content than home-cooked meals. This study is the first to indicate that excess salt intake may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases.
A few years ago Jens Titze showed that excess dietary salt (sodium chloride) accumulates in tissue and can affect macrophages (a type of scavenger cells) of the immune system. Independent of this study, Markus Kleinewietfeld and David Hafler
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Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres