junk food
Junk food

Delicious Medicine: Junk Food May Help Eliminate Intestinal Parasites

Scientists discovered that a high-fat diet allows the immune system to eliminate a parasitic worm, which is one of the leading causes of death and disease worldwide.

Undoubtedly, junk food, regularly high in fat, causes a lot of damage to the body, but a group of scientists found a positive aspect in this type of food: it can help the body to eliminate parasites.

Researchers from Lancaster University and the University of Manchester discovered that a diet rich in fat allows the immune system to eliminate a parasitic worm, which is one of the main causes of death and disease in the developing world.

As the research explains, parasitic worms affect up to one billion people, especially in developing countries with poor sanitary conditions. One of these parasites, known as “whipworm”, can cause long-lasting infections in the large intestine.

It has previously been shown that the immune responses that expel the parasite depend on white blood cells called T-helper 2 cells, which specialize in eliminating gastrointestinal parasites.

The findings, published in the journal Mucosal Immunology, demonstrate how a high-fat diet, not obesity per se, increases a molecule on T-helper T cells called ST2, which enables a greater response from T-helper 2 cells that expel the parasite from the lining of the large intestine.

“We were very surprised by what we discovered in this study. High-fat diets are usually associated with increased pathology during disease. However, in the case of whipworm infection, this high-fat diet authorizes T-helper cells to make the correct immune response to expel the worm,” stated Dr. John Worthington, Biomedical and Life Sciences at Lancaster University who co-led the research.

“Our studies in mice on a standard diet show that ST2 is not normally activated when expelling the parasite, but the high-fat diet increases ST2 levels and therefore allows expulsion by an alternative route,” added Richard Grencis of the University of Manchester.

Specialists advise against overuse

The authors say they are very surprised by the result of their research, which shows that a high-fat diet can help expel parasites; however, they urge caution with over-consumption of such foods,

“Before you order more takeout, we have already published that weight loss can promote the expulsion of another intestinal parasite. So these results may be context specific, but what is really exciting is the demonstration of how diet can profoundly alter the ability to generate protective immunity and this may give us new clues for treatments for the millions of people suffering from intestinal parasitic infections worldwide,” said Dr. John Worthington, of Biomedical and Life Sciences at Lancaster University and co-leader of the research.