Role of Processed Foods and Food Additives in Multiple Sclerosis
A new study suggests that commonly used food additives in processed foods could play a significant role in the development of multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions. The study was conducted by experts from Israel and Germany and appears in Autoimmunity Reviews.
According to the authors of the study, food additives compromise the epithelial barrier by damaging the tight junctions that provide protection for the intestinal mucosa, which functions to protect the integrity of the intestinal tract and provide immunity balance that helps prevent autoimmune disease. These tight junctions consist of a network of proteins that regulate the movement of macromolecules, protect the intestinal tract against invasion and colonization by foreign substances, and help keep the immune response in equilibrium and balance.
When there is a problem with these tight junctions, the intestinal barrier becomes more permeable to allergens, bacteria, carcinogens, and toxins. Included in this list are common food additives, such as those found in thousands of processed foods.
The researchers evaluated the relationship between autoimmunity and food additives, namely:
- Glucose (sugars), which the researchers reported increased permeability and resulted in intercellular leakage
- Sodium (salt), which can have a negative impact on the immune system. Consuming processed foods high in salt “may in part be responsible for the increasing incidence of autoimmune disease.”
- Emulsifiers, which are used extensively in bakery, dairy, oils and fat, sauces, ice cream, meat, coffee, beverages, chocolate, and convenient foods. Among the emulsifiers used in foods include mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids, lecithins, carrageenan, polyglycerols, xanthan and other gums, polysorbate 80, among others. They are used to improve food texture and shelf life.
- Organic solvents, which are used in the food industry to extract active ingredients or remove undesirable substances. Among the organic solvents used in food processing are hexane, stabilizers, preservatives, and flavorings, among others.
- Gluten, a major constituent of wheat and a known allergen for some individuals
- Microbial enzyme transglutaminase (mTG) is a substance that is used in the food industry to improve the texture of meat, dairy products, and sweet foods, protein film stability, improved volume and texture in bakery products, and better preservability.
- Nanometric particles are extremely minute substances being used by the food industry to protect, encapsulate, and deliver certain components in foods, such as vitamins, preservatives, and nutraceuticals
The researchers pointed out that while it is practical to study each of these food additives separately, in reality the situation is more complicated, “since in nanotechnology many of the additives can be combined,” which could enhance their impact on tight junction permeability.
The authors discovered that the abovenamed additives weakened the tight junctions, which resulted in a more permeable intestinal mucosa. Based on these findings, the researchers recommended that individuals with an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, and their family members, avoid consuming processed foods and food additives as much as possible and focus on whole, natural foods.
Lerner A, Matthia T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune Reviews 2015 Jun; 14(6): 479-89
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