Salt Could Be Behind Rise In Autoimmune Diseases

Year-long study finds salt activated and worsened disease bearing cells in mice

Yale Salt Study
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Yale Salt Study

Dr. David Hafler is chairman of Yale's Department of Neurology. He's been studying multiple sclerosis for several decades. His lab looks at T-cells known as "helper cells," which are meant to assist the immune system, but do the opposite in diseases like Type 1 diabetes. He says the cells went wild when they removed them from blood and added salt: "The surprise of the study was the degree to which salt could induce as much inflammation both in the mouse and in vitro."

Mice on salt diets developed a more severe form of MS. Still, it's hard to know precisely what role diet is playing. "When we look at the genetics and cross it with the genes induced by salt, there's incredible overlap. Almost a third of the genes are salt genes that seemed to cause the autoimmune diseases," he says.

Scientist continue to study exactly how much salt has an affect. And it's still unclear if eliminating processed foods and sticking with a low salt, low fat diet could ward off autoimmune diseases. But doing so obviously has other health benefits.

"We have benefits totally unknown, but potentially great. And zero risks. It can only benefit your heart and circulation," Hafler said.

The findings considered research based at Harvard University, MIT, and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"There's a sense out there that scientist hide things. They're competitive. And I guess that exists somewhere, but we really have a nice group of people that work together," he said. 

The reports are published in the March 6th issue of the journal Nature.