Node Smith, ND

Immune System Overreacts to Fast-Food

In a recent study, researchers found that the immune system reacts to “fast food,” high in salt and calories in much the same way as it responds to a bacterial infection.1 The study comes from the University of Bonn, and is published in as, Western diet triggers NLRP3-dependent innate immune reprogramming, in the latest issue of the journal Cell.


The researchers point out that the immune system reacts more aggressively when it is confronted with fast food consumption, just like when it is confronted with a bacterial infection. The defenses of the immune system create more inflammation, and are more active – like being constantly on overdrive. What was interesting from the study was that this immune system hyperactivation remains even after a person has switched to a healthier diet. This prolonged activation of the immune system is linked to several chronic diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis.

“Western Diet” = Fast-food, Excess Sugar, Salt, Fat

The diet specifically studied was a “western diet,” of fast food with excess sugar, salt and fat, and low amounts of fiber. The immune system was shown to produce higher amounts of certain types of cells, including granulocytes and monocytes – both of which are upregulated during infection. The bone marrow seemed to be stimulated by the “unhealthy diet.” The genetic code of the bone marrow actually underwent certain changes which stimulated maturity of immune cells at a quicker rate.

Active Immune System Induced by Diet is Unhealthy Activity

It may seem like an active immune system is a good thing, however, this is happening from the diet, and not from an actual infection. When the immune system mounts inflammatory responses when it does need to it produces chronic symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and potentially more insidious problems like autoimmune conditions.


  1. Christ A, Günther P, Lauterbach A.R.M. , et al. Western diet triggers NLRP3-dependent innate immune reprograming; Cell, 11.1.2018, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.013
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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