Eating a bit too much salt can have a major effect on immune cells

Brittany A. Roston - May 2, 2021, 6:38am CDT
Eating a bit too much salt can have a major effect on immune cells

Another study has found a good reason to be mindful of how much salt you eat: it doesn’t take much to have a noticeable impact on your immune cells, and the effect likely isn’t limited to them. The new research comes from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine where scientists found that something as simple as eating a pizza may cause a temporary but substantial change in immunes cells’ energy balance.

It’s no secret that eating too much salt is bad for one’s health, but it can be easy to underestimate how much sodium you’re consuming. Health experts largely recommend that adults limit their salt intake to up to around five or six grams daily, and it is very easy to exceed that number when consuming common processed foods and restaurant meals.

That’s a problem because, according to the new study, getting too much salt can ‘severely disrupt’ immune cells’ energy balance, and the researchers note this impact likely isn’t limited to just immune cells. That’s because the excess sodium was linked to a decrease in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a ‘universe fuel’ that cells require for energy.

When ATP levels decrease, cells use less oxygen and their function is disrupted. When it comes to salt in particular, the study found that too much sodium ‘very specifically inhibits complex II in the respiratory chain,’ according to the researchers, with the decrease in energy causing a different maturation in monocytes, the precursors to macrophages.

Of note, ATP is produced by the body’s mitochondria, which is often referred to as the ‘power plant’ of cells. The research found that eating a single pizza — a food product that commonly has high salt levels — was enough to suppress mitochondria for a few hours after consumption. The good news is that the impact is temporary, but the researchers note that people who eat salty foods multiple times a day may face risks.

Likewise, the researchers note that salt’s cellular impact is likely not limited to immune cells because mitochondria are found in every cell in the body, particularly in neurons, muscle cells, and receptors. Additional research is necessary to determine how these different cell varieties regulate sodium’s impact on mitochondria, but the findings ultimately give a good reason to be mindful about the sodium in one’s diet.


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