News / Health

Dietary Salt Implicated in Autoimmune Disorders

Jessica Berman
Scientists have implicated dietary salt in the development of autoimmune diseases, which are caused when the body’s naturally protective immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissues and organs.  Some researchers believe the modern diet, including consumption of fast foods, may play a role in the mysterious evolution of these conditions.  

Scientists have identified about 100 genetic variants - mutations that shuffle the genetic material of a living cell - that appear to play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases, including the crippling condition known as multiple sclerosis, or MS.  Evidence shows that these mutations are not inherited, but instead are triggered by an environmental factor.

A previous infection, vitamin D deficiency, smoking and obesity have been identified as potential triggers.  Now, researchers believe dietary salt may also act as a gene-altering trip wire, causing the body’s immune system to begin misdirecting protective T-cells against healthy tissue.

In two papers published this week, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute in Massachusetts describe potential molecular pathways by which salt might induce an autoimmune response.

And in a third paper, researchers at Yale University describe dramatic results when they fed one group of mice a low-salt diet and another group of rodents a diet high in sodium.  All of the mice were bred to develop a disease that mimics MS.

David Hafler is head of the Department of Neurology at Yale. Hafler says the rodents that consumed less salt walked normally but with a limp tail.

“Animals on the high salt were basically paralyzed and couldn’t move around the cage," said Hafler. "So, [it was] a very dramatic difference in the extent of the disease.”

Hafler says researchers stumbled upon the possible salt link while studying the variety of bacteria living in the guts of 100 human subjects, noticing that those who ate at fast food restaurants had high levels of inflammatory T cells in their blood.  Inflammation is a sign of immune system activation, and autoimmune diseases - including MS, type 1 diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis - have all been on the rise in recent years. Even rates of heart disease, caused by an inflammatory process, have skyrocketed.

Hafler says the genetic variants that contribute to MS and the other autoimmune disorders are not necessarily bad genes.

"But it's a bad interaction between genes and the environment," he said. "And what the study really has demonstrated is that salt is likely or may be one of the environmental factors that was previously unknown."

All three studies on sodium as a potential trigger of autoimmune disorders are published in the journal Nature.

You May Like

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More