Food Additives and autoimmune disease.

Soon after the World Health Organization announced that eating processed meat could increase the risk of cancer, another study has found that industrialised food additives could increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

The study, lead by Prof. Aaron Lerner and Dr. Torsten Matthias, found that various additives commonly found in processed food can weaken the tight-junctions in the gut.

Tight-junctions perform vital functions:

  • They hold cells together.
  • They have what is called the Barrier function, which can be further subdivided into protective barriers and functional barriers serving purposes such as material transport and maintenance of osmotic balance:
    • Tight Junctions help to maintain the polarity of cells by preventing the lateral diffusion of integral membrane proteins between the apical and lateral/basal surfaces, allowing the specialized functions of each surface (for example receptor-mediated endocytosis at the apical surface and exocytosis at the basolateral surface) to be preserved. This aims to preserve the transcellular transport.
    • Tight Junctions prevent the passage of molecules and ions through the space between plasma membranes of adjacent cells, so materials must actually enter the cells (by diffusion or active transport) in order to pass through the tissue. Investigation using freeze-fracture methods in electron microscopy is ideal for revealing the lateral extent of tight junctions in cell membranes and has been useful in showing how tight junctions are formed.[2] The constrained intracellular pathway exacted by the tight junction barrier system allows precise control over which substances can pass through a particular tissue. (Tight junctions play this role in maintaining the blood–brain barrier.) At the present time, it is still unclear whether the control is active or passive and how these pathways are formed. In one study for paracellular transport across the tight junction in kidney proximal tubule, a dual pathway model is proposed: large slit breaks formed by infrequent discontinuities in the TJ complex and numerous small circular pores.[3]

In human physiology there are two main types of epithelia using distinct types of barrier mechanism. Dermal structures such as skin form a barrier from many layers of keratinised squamous cells. Internal epithelia on the other hand more often rely on tight junctions for their barrier function. This kind of barrier is mostly formed by only one or two layers of cells. It was long unclear whether tight cell junctions also play any role in the barrier function of the skin and similar external epithelia but recent research suggests that this is indeed the case.[4]

Glucose (sugar), sodium (salt), fat solvents (emulsifiers), organic acids, gluten, microbial transglutaminase and nanometric particles are all culprits according to The Jerusalem Post.