Fast Food May Trigger Our Bodies to React the Same Way as If We Were Sick

We all know that eating fast food can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can sometimes lead to clear physical changes, such as weight gain, but some of the changes aren’t so obvious, like long-term damage to your immune system.

In a new study, researchers found that our bodies defend against high fat, high-calorie diets in a similar way as when it tried to fend off bacterial infections when we’re sick. Using mice models, scientists from the University of Bonn, found that animals who ate a Western diet developed strong inflammatory responses.

“The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice,” study author Annette Christ, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bonn, said in a statement.

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However, overconsumption of those foods is, of course, a bigger problem than choosing to eat items that are part of a Western diet every now and then.

“Occasionally having foods like this won't have long lasting negative effects for most people,” Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Newsweek via email. “But there is evidence that chronic inflammation can suppress the immune system and chronically consuming processed foods can lead to inflammation.”

1_12_fast food A Policeman stand inside a Burger King fast food restaurant following a robbery attempt on December 25, 2016 in Bordeaux, southwestern France. The armed man were seriously injured and arrested after a shoot-out with the police according to the police. Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

After the mice indulge in a Western diet, Christ and her colleagues gave then gave the mice their usual cereal diet for a total of four weeks. During this time, their acute inflammation diminished; however, the immune cells that were programmed by the unhealthy food remained the same.

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“It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory,” study author Dr. Eicke Latz, Director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn, explained in a statement. “After an infection, the body's defenses remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack.” 

Although the research, which was published Thursday in the journal Cell, can help us better understand the detrimental effects of a Western diet, they shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

“This research confirms what I see in my practice every day—(that our diets have a major impact on our health)—that eating junk food, leads to junk health,” Dr. Frank Lipman, bestselling author of Be Well and founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, told Newsweek via email.

As with most things, enjoy it in moderation.