The dark side of food additives is no more hidden to us. Various health experts and nutritionists around the world talk about the ill effects of food additives that fast foods and other processed foods have. Not just this, high consumption of food additives results in increased childhood obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. According to a study led by researchers from Michigan State University, common food additive that are found in many food products like frozen meat, crackers, cookies and fried foods may weaken our immune system against flu, which accounts for 290,000-650,000 deaths globally every year.
Other than increase in the severity of flu symptoms, researchers found that exposure to the compound, called tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), may decrease the efficiency of flu vaccine through its effects on T cells, which are known to boost our immune system. For the study, the researchers fed mice with tBHQ-infused diet and found that these mice showed were slower to activate both helper T cells and killer T cells, resulting in slower removal of the virus.
"Our studies showed mice on a tBHQ diet had a weakened immune response to influenza (flu) infection," said Robert Freeborn, postdoctoral candidate at the Michigan State University. "In our mouse model, tBHQ suppressed function of helper and killer T cells. It led to more severe symptoms during a subsequent influenza infection," Freeborn said.
The mice were re-infected with another but related strain of virus; those on the tBHQ diet showed a longer illness and lost more weight as compared to the ones who were fed normal diet. This suggests that tBHQ weakened the memory response, which is known to prime the immune system to fight the second infection, Freeborn said.
tBHQ is an additive used to prevent spoilage, with a maximum allowed concentration of 200 parts per million in food products.
"Since tBHQ is not always listed on ingredient labels, the best way to limit tBHQ exposure is to be conscious about food choices. A low-fat diet and less consumption of processed snacks will help reduce tBHQ consumption," he suggested.
The research concluded with the fact that yearly flu shot considerably reduces the length and severity of the illness and averts influenza infection. The study will be presented at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting in Orlando.