More Evidence that Diet Affects the Immune System

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • Over the past several months, I have written about the importance of a healthy diet to the management of rheumatoid arthritis. Eating right to maintain a healthy weight reduces stress, wear and tear on the joints. Additionally, there is growing evidence that the foods we consume, specifically different kinds of fats, have an affect on the body’s immune responses—both helpful and harmful. By now we have probably all seen articles decrying trans-fatty acids (found in hydrogenated oils used for cooking and frying) and touting fish and healthy oils (such as flax, linseed, and sunflower oil) as sources for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which act as anti-inflammatory agents. There is also limited evidence that a vegetarian diet, avoiding fats found in animal products, may help limit the inflammatory response associated with RA.
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    A new study, as reported in Medical News Today, online, is one step closer to finding the connection between dietary fat consumption and inflammation. The researchers from Garvan Institute's Immunology Program in Sydney, Australia, hope that this could provide answers to the connection between metabolism and immune responses. The scientists noted that our dietary habits in the western world have changed over the last 30 years or more, including an increase in the consumption of fats (fatty acids) from fast food and pre-prepared foods, and there has likewise been an increase in the incidence of inflammatory diseases, especially asthma, atherosclerosis, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

    The researchers found that dendritic cells (a type of white blood cells that initiate immune responses), rely on the fatty acid binding molecule aP2 in order to function. They believe that various fatty acids or their total levels will affect aP2 function in dendritic cells—therefore affecting the body’s immune response. Over-activation of dendritic cells can trigger inflammatory diseases, and this study shows that aP2 is key to that process. Scientists are already targeting fatty acid binding molecules, such as aP2, for research related to the treatment of metabolic disorders such as Type-2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. This new study suggests that medicines directed at aP2 would have great potential for inflammatory diseases like RA, as well as metabolic diseases. The authors concluded that future research should focus on whether the total levels of fats or certain types of fats alter dendritic cell function through their binding to aP2. They believe that this link to diet may help explain the increase in inflammatory diseases over the last few decades.

    Regulation of Dendritic Cell Function and T Cell Priming by the Fatty Acid-Binding Protein aP2
    Michael S. Rolph, Timothy R. Young, Bennett O. V. Shum, Cem Z. Gorgun, Carsten Schmitz-Peiffer, Ian A. Ramshaw, Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, and Charles R. Mackay
    J Immunol 2006 177: 7794-7801.

    This research is published online in the December 1, 2006 edition of the Journal of Immunology.

    1. What foods do you avoid to help minimize inflammation? Trade tips on the RA Message Boards.

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Published On: December 08, 2006