How Processed Junk Food Hurts the Immune System

It is well known that eating healthy foods improves your immunity. People who eat diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats provide the immune system with the micronutrients it needs to make immune cells that fight off disease.

Eating processed foods can do just the opposite. Processed foods, otherwise known as junk foods, contain very little in the way of nutrients and do nothing to support the immune system. A diet high in processed foods just sets you up for a poor immune system and an increased risk of disease.

Processed foods are high in sucrose, fructose, and glucose, and contain rancid fats, synthetic fats, genetically modified ingredients, preservatives, and additives. These are things the body doesn’t use to build the cells and proteins needed by the immune system and some can adversely affect the way the immune system functions.

Bad diets negatively affect the immune system fighting properties of the gut and cause inflammation. These things are closely connected to all aspects of our health and can lead to diseases well beyond that involved in immune system dysfunction.

The research indicating that processed foods are bad for your immune health is irrefutable and shouldn’t be ignored. These studies indicate that, in order to have a well-functioning immune system, it needs to be feed healthy foods that allow for immune cell growth, development, and functioning.

Research On Diet and Immune Health

A recent review article published in the Nutrition Journal looked into the effect of today’s western diet on the immune system and indicated that our diet can be a major culprit in getting immune-related conditions.

According to the review article, a Western diet may give us an adequate amount of macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants) but it contains too many calories that result in our being overweight.

Being overweight contributes to the inflammation in our bodies and reduces our immune response so that we are at risk for cancers that could be prevented by an adequate immune system as well as allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Processed food tends to be higher in calories than healthy food. As a result, we become overweight, leading to the problems just described.

What we eat in our diet has the capacity to trigger inflammation or prevent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to diseases that are completely preventable, such as diabetes, heart disease, immune disease, cancer, strokes, and other types of disease.

Things like synthetic trans fats, sugar, and preservatives increase inflammation in our diet because our immune system is not prepared and instead inflames the body. Eating healthy fats, on the other hand, such as omega 3 fatty acids or gamma linolenic acid reduces the amount of inflammation in the body so that inflammatory diseases are prevented.
Processed food also damages the immune system by triggering the release of antibodies that are supposed to fight off infections and foreign agents. Instead, they cause damage to the body’s own cells, leading to the development of autoimmune diseases, of which there are many types. Fortunately, not everyone is affected in the same way by processed foods and their interaction with the immune system. If this were the case, we would all develop autoimmune diseases.

Ways Processed Foods Affect the Immune System

Macrophages, which are important immune cells, can damage the body instead of fighting off foreign invaders. In similar ways, simple sugars in the diet cause an increase in the inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, leading to disease. Eating foods high in complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, have been found to reduce inflammation, allowing the immune system to react appropriately.

There are differing opinions on the role of omega 6 fatty acids and the immune system. Some studies have shown that omega 6 fatty acids (available in most vegetable oils) actually contribute to immune dysfunction. Gluten is another commonly consumed food item that stimulates the inflammatory response and causes disruption of the immune system.

Pesticides are not good for anyone and there are too many pesticides on the foods we eat. Studies have shown in animal research studies that the intake of pesticides resulted in stomach inflammation triggered by an abnormal immune system. The intake of these foods and other processed items enhance the inflammatory response in the body while at the same time, they block the immune system’s ability to fight off the pathogens that lead to infection.