Processed foods cause autoimmune diseases, echoing WHO's announcement that processed meats cause cancer

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Beef hamburger, priced at 13,450 yen ($112), is served at the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo May 1, 2007.
Beef hamburger, priced at 13,450 yen ($112), is served at the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo May 1, 2007. Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota

Processed foods increases the risk for autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, according to researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel and Aesku-Kipp Institute in Germany. Published in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews, this study reinforces the World Health Organisation’s revelation that processed meats cause cancer.

"In recent decades, there has been a decrease in incidence of infectious diseases, but at the same time there has been an increase in the incidence of allergic diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases," said Aaron Lerner, a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Lerner adds that the scientific community has been searching for the causes of autoimmune diseases at the environmental level.

Processed foods are any food that have been subjected to processing such as canning, freezing, cooking, dehydration or milling, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cheese, cereals, canned fruits and vegetables, bread and meats such as bacon are just few examples of processed food that are widely popular worldwide.

The researchers studied how certain additives used in processed foods used to improve texture, taste, smell and longevity affect the intestines. They found that these can cause up to 100 autoimmune diseases that include celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune hepatitis, myasthenia gravis, Crohn's disease and scleroderma, all resulting from when the immune system attacks healthy cells.

The team explained that food additives like glucose, gluten, sodium, fat solvents, organic acids, nanometric particles and microbial transglutaminase weaken tight junctions in the intestine. These junctions protect the mucosa, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract that aids in the passage of foods.

Normally, tight junctions protect the immune system from bacteria, toxins, allergens, carcinogens and other foreign bodies. The tight junctions’ deterioration triggers a "leaky gut" where toxins enter the bloodstream leading to autoimmune disease development.

"Control and enforcement agencies such as the FDA stringently supervise the pharmaceutical industry, but the food additive market remains unsupervised enough," Lerner concluded. The researchers hope that the awareness of the dangers of processed foods will raise awareness about the need for control and regulation over them.