The Surprising Effect Fast Food Has on Your Immune System

picture of fast foods

Too many trips in the drive-thru could do long term damage to the immune system. According to a recent study at the University of Bonn, the immune system reacts to a high calorie, high fat diet the same as it would to a bacterial infection. This means the body identifies that double cheeseburger meal with greasy fries as an enemy to the body.

More startling, however, is the fact even after switching to a healthier diet, the immune system continues to respond aggressively. This causes extra inflammation potentially contributing to diabetes or arteriosclerosis–a thickening or hardening of the arteries’ walls.

The Immune System and Inflammation

Your body’s immune system seeks to recognize and defend itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances appearing foreign and harmful. It does this by responding to proteins called antigens on the surface of these harmful cells. This is called the immune response. Your body has innate responses (ones present when you were born) or through acquired immunity (responses developing when the body is exposed to antigens.)

The inflammation response occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, toxins, heat, or other traumas. The damaged cells release chemicals causing swelling to try and isolate the foreign substance (in this case, the fast food meal) from further contacting body tissues.

Fast Food is Changing Your DNA

If increased inflammation is not enough, repeated unhealthy eating is retraining the innate immune system to remain in an alarm state. Scientists were able to identify a “fast food sensor” in the DNA of immune cells. This sensor produces an aggressive inflammatory response to even small amounts of unhealthy foods.

The Consequences of an Unhealthy Diet

According to the Bonn research, these heightened inflammatory responses can accelerate vascular disease or type 2 diabetes. In addition, the inflammatory response can eventually contribute to a heart attack or stoke.

For someone committing to eating healthier, it is essential to be consistent with the diet. Acute inflammation from unhealthy eating will eventually fade, but the immune system’s response to fast food may still be present.

In addition, children need to know the dangers of fast foods and other junk foods to be empowered to make better, healthier choices. This can “immunized” them from the powerful temptations of the food industry and allow their immune systems to function properly.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle will help protect your immune system, and, ultimately, make you feel better. Next time you find yourself standing in line at the fast food counter, take a few mindful moments to consider what it is doing to your body.