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Western diet may increase risk of gut inflammation

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Western diet may increase risk of gut inflammation

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Eating a Western diet impairs the immune system in the gut in ways that could increase risk of infection and inflammatory bowel disease, according to a new study.

Published: May 18, 2021

Source: Washington University School of Medicine

The study showed that a diet high in sugar and fat causes damage to Paneth cells, immune cells in the gut that help keep inflammation in check. When Paneth cells aren't functioning properly, the gut immune system is excessively prone to inflammation, putting people at risk of inflammatory bowel disease and undermining effective control of disease-causing microbes. The findings open up new approaches to regulating gut immunity by restoring normal Paneth cell function.

Paneth cell impairment is a key feature of inflammatory bowel disease. For example, people with Crohn's disease, a kind of inflammatory bowel disease characterised by abdominal pain, diarrhoea, anaemia and fatigue, often have Paneth cells that have stopped working.

Researchers found that high body mass index (BMI) was associated with Paneth cells that looked abnormal and unhealthy under a microscope. The higher a person's BMI, the worse his or her Paneth cells looked. The association held for healthy adults and people with Crohn's disease.

In people, obesity is frequently the result of eating a diet rich in fat and sugar. Obesity wasn't the problem per se, eating too much of a healthy diet didn't affect the Paneth cells. It was the high-fat, high-sugar diet that was the problem.

Further research is needed to assess whether a dramatic change in dietary habits of obese people could reverse abnormal Paneth cells as it's possible that if you have Western diet for so long, you cross a point of no return and your Paneth cells don't recover even if you change your diet. 


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Materials provided by Washington University School of Medicine. Content may be edited for style and length.

  1. Ta-Chiang Liu, Justin T. Kern, Umang Jain, Naomi M. Sonnek, Shanshan Xiong, Katherine F. Simpson, Kelli L. VanDussen, Emma S. Winkler, Talin Haritunians, Atika Malique, Qiuhe Lu, Yo Sasaki, Chad Storer, Michael S. Diamond, Richard D. Head, Dermot P.B. McGovern, Thaddeus S. Stappenbeck. Western diet induces Paneth cell defects through microbiome alterations and farnesoid X receptor and type I interferon activation. Cell Host & Microbe, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.04.004


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