Increased dietary salt intake can induce a group of aggressive immune cells that are involved in triggering and sustaining autoimmune diseases. This is the result of a study conducted by an international group of scientists, including ones from Yale University, the Broad Institute, MIT, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, among others. The authors of the report, which was published online in Nature on March 6, 2013, included Dr. Markus Kleinewietfeld, Professor David Hafler, Dr. Ralf Linker, Professor Jens Titze, and Professor Dominik N. Müller. A second study, published on the same day in Nature, describes how a salt-sensing enzyme might be involved in the induction of autoimmune disease. A third study, also published on the same day in Nature, describes the molecular pathways involving T helper cells that can lead to autoimmune disease. Together, this suite of three Nature articles may significantly advance our understanding of the origins of autoimmune disease. The focus here is on the first article on the effects of excess dietary salt. In recent decades, scientists have observed a steady rise in the incidence of autoimmune diseases in the Western world. Because this increase cannot be explained solely by genetic factors, researchers hypothesize that the sharp increase in these diseases is linked to environmental factors. Among the suspected culprits are changes in lifestyle and dietary habits in developed countries, where highly processed food and fast food are often on the daily menu. These foods tend to have substantially higher salt content than home-cooked meals.
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