When it comes to treating disease with food, quackery goes way back. For centuries, raw garlic has been touted as a home remedy for everything from chlamydia to the common cold.Contains cures for Renaissance-era plagues figs in hyssop oilDuring the 1918 influenza pandemic, Americans onion Also bottom up “Liquid Beef” A gravy that keeps deadly viruses at bay.
Even in modern times, of the internet There are a lot of questionable culinary elixir: apple cider vinegar for gonorrhea; orange juice for malaria; mint, milk and pineapple for tuberculosis. It all has a way of making real science sound like garbage. eat this to cure cancerLydia Lynch, an immunologist and cancer biologist at Harvard University, told me.
But in recent years, a number of legitimate studies have shown that our diet can actually affect our ability to fight off invaders, down to the microscopic functioning of individual immune cells. These studies belong to a new subfield of immunology sometimes called immunometabolism. Researchers still have a long way to go before they can confidently recommend specific foods and supplements against colds, flu, sexually transmitted diseases, and other infections. But one day, our knowledge of how nutrients help fight disease could impact how we treat infections in hospitals, clinics, and perhaps even at home. Antibiotics and steroids as well as dietary supplements, metabolic drugs, or whole foods can be used.
Although major breakthroughs in immune metabolism have just arrived, the underlying concepts have been around for at least as long as the quack. For thousands of years, people have known that they lose their appetite within hours of being sick. Our bodies feel heavy and sluggish. we lose our thirst. In the 1980s, veterinarian Benjamin Hart Claimed these changes were a package dealHart recently told me that the goal is to “help animals stay in one place, ,” he said.
The concept of anorexia due to illness (not to be confused with eating disorders) anorexia nervosa) may seem like “a bit of a paradox” at first, says Zuri Sullivan, an immunologist at Harvard University. Fighting pathogenic microbes is energetically costly, so eating less becomes a highly counterintuitive choice. I thought it might help. Pathogen of essential nutrients. (Since viruses don’t eat for energy, this concept is limited to cell-based organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites.) A team led by Miguel Soares, an immunologist at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal, said , recently showed This exact scenario may be playing out in malaria. When the parasite pops out of the replicating red blood cells, the resulting nebulization of heme (an oxygen-transporting molecule) causes the liver to stop producing glucose. Suspension deprives the parasite of nutrients and weakens it, tempering Worst consequences of infection.
Cutting back on sugar can be a dangerous race to the bottom. An animal that withholds food when sick is trying to starve the aggressor before starving it. themselves run out of energy. Prolonged glucose boycotts can lead dieters to develop dangerously low blood sugar.This is a common complication of severe malaria and can be fatal if not treated. At the same time, however, the lack of glucose can have beneficial effects on individual tissues and cells during specific immune battles. For example, low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet It appears to increase the protective power of certain types of immune cells in mice, making it more difficult for certain pathogens to infiltrate airway tissue.
These findings are still a long way from potential human applications. . clinical treatment In sepsis, the infection spreads throughout the body, infiltrates the blood, and is often fatal. “We still don’t know exactly what to feed people with sepsis,” Wang told me. He and former Yale mentor Ruslan Medzhitov are currently conducting a clinical trial to see if changing the balance of carbohydrates and lipids in the diet speeds recovery in people with sepsis. Ultimately, if these patterns can be pinpointed, doctors will be able to flip the body’s metabolic switches through carefully timed doses of drugs, giving immune cells greater advantage over their adversaries. There is a possibility.
However, the rules of these food-disease interactions, as far as anyone understands, are quite complex. Sepsis can be caused by a large number of different pathogens. And context is really, really important. 2016, Wang, Medzhitov, and his colleagues discovered When mice are given glucose during infection, completely different effect Depending on the nature of the pathogen-driven disease.When mice were filled with glucose while infected with bacteria Listeria, all of them died, but about half of the rodents allowed to succumb to anorexia due to infection survived. On the other hand, the same sweet menu increased the survival rate of mice with influenza.
In this case the difference is microorganism I was eating Instead, the mice’s diet changed the nature of the immune response they were able to modulate, and, like James Hamblin, the degree of collateral damage that response did to the body. wrote for Atlantic At the timeThe type of inflammation the mice ignited ListeriaThe team found that rodents can put their fragile brain cells at risk when they are well-fed. But when mice stopped eating sugar, their starved livers began producing an alternative fuel source called ketone bodies. I kept my strength. The opposite happened when researchers were infected with influenza, a virus that causes another type of inflammation.
There is still no unifying principle that explains these differences. But they remind us of an underappreciated aspect of immunity. After all, surviving disease isn’t just about clearing pathogens from your body. As immune cells and microbes wage an all-out war, our organizations must also protect themselves from shrapnel. Soares said it’s becoming clear that “metabolic reprogramming is a big component of that protection.” Listeria Nor can it protect us from viruses, parasites, or fungi. It may not be ideal in normal times. This means our bodies have to constantly switch metabolic states.
Just as the type of infection is important, so are certain types of nutrients, such as animal fats, vegetable fats, starches, simple sugars, and proteins. As Lynch discovered, fat, like glucose, is beneficial in some situations and detrimental in others. It seems to reconfigure itself to rely heavily on fat in the body. that’s what it is As for the class of cells called natural killers, “they still recognize cancer and virus-infected cells and go there as they need to be killed,” Lynch told me. “But they lack the energy to actually kill it.” Timing almost certainly has an effect, too. An immune defense that helps someone clear the virus in the first few days of infection may not be ideal during the course of the disease.
Even starving a bacterial foe is not a solid strategy. salmonella Since the rodents would not allow them to eat, the hungry microbes in their gut began eating. spread outside the intestine, probably looking for food. The migration has killed off their small mammalian hosts in large numbers. salmonella Inside them, sending to new hosts is also easier. Microorganisms were also responding and trying to adapt to their metabolic environment. “It would be great if it was as simple as, ‘If you have a bacterial infection, cut back on your glucose,'” he says. “But I think we just don’t know.”
All of this puts immune metabolism in a somewhat chaotic state. “There are no easy recommendations” for how to eat to boost immunity, Medzhitov said. It may alter your metabolic needs. After the publication of Medzhitov’s 2016 study on glucose and viral infections, he recalled being disappointed by a foreign media article circulating online, stating, “U.S. scientists should eat candy when they have the flu.” I say so,” he told me with a sigh. “It was bad.”
But given how chaotic, individualistic, and messy nutrition can be for humans, it’s not surprising that the dietary principles that govern individual cells become fairly complex. For the time being, we may be able to follow our instincts. After all, our bodies have been navigating this mess for thousands of years, and perhaps have some sense of what they need in the process. It may not be a coincidence that “sweet things really make you feel better”. Drinking classic chicken soup on sick days may even have immunological value. It’s jam-packed and useful to take in when an illness throws the body’s electrolyte balance out of whack.
The science of craving for sickness is still not fully understood. Still, Sullivan, who trained with Medzhitov, says it now feels better to indulge in Talenti’s mango his sorbet when the virus is down, thanks to a colleague’s discovery in 2016. I’m joking. Maybe sugar helps her body fight the virus without harming itself, she repeats, maybe not. For now, she thinks she’s fine with digging.