An international team of specialists has identified the negative effects of excess salt in the diet on the immune system. The study was conducted by scientists from the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research and Hasselt University in Belgium, as well as the Max Delbruck Center in Germany. The results of their work are published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
It was previously known that people who consume a lot of salt have an increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease. In the new study, the authors focused on other risks of salt. The process looked at regulatory T cells (Treg), which are an important part of the immune system. These cells help maintain a balance between normal body function and excessive inflammation.
Scientists believe that changes in Treg function are associated with the development of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. Previous observations have shown that excess sodium can affect T-cell function, causing an autoimmune phenotype. However, exactly how salt affects immune cells was unknown.
It turned out that sodium disrupts Treg by altering cellular metabolism through blocking energy production by the mitochondria. It is this mechanism that leads to changes in gene expression, which eventually causes autoimmune conditions. Even a short-term deterioration of mitochondrial function had long-term consequences on T-cell performance in various experimental models.
The authors concluded that sodium may be a disease-inducing factor in Treg dysfunction. But more research is needed to confirm this. In addition, T cells play a role in cancer and cardiovascular disease, so further study of sodium-induced effects may offer new options for altering immune cell function in various conditions.