Lungworm: Dr Scott discusses parasite
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Many of us are cautious about including too much fat in our diet. Aside from causing weight gain it could also raise your risk of issues such as high cholesterol and heart disease, for example. But now research has shown a high-fat diet could be beneficial to the immune system in a very unusual way.
Scientists from Lancaster University and the University of Manchester have discovered that a high-fat diet allows the immune system to eliminate a type of parasitic worm.
Parasitic worms affect millions of people, particularly in developing nations with poor sanitation, resulting in illness and even death.
One of these parasites known as “whipworm” can cause long-lasting infections in the large intestine.
Lead author Doctor Evelyn Funjika, formerly at Manchester and now at the University of Zambia, explained how food can have an effect on the parasites.
In a university release she said: “Just like the UK, the cheapest diets are often high in fat and at-risk communities to whipworm are increasingly utilising these cheap diets.
“Therefore, how worm infection and western diets interact is a key unknown for developing nations.
“In order to be able to study how nutrition affects parasite worm infection, we have been using a mouse model, trichuris muris, closely related to the human whipworm trichuris trichiura and seeing how a high-fat diet impacts immunity.”
It has been previously shown that immune responses which expel the parasite rely on white blood cells called T-helper 2 cells, specialised for eliminating gastrointestinal parasites.
These findings, published in the Mucosal Immunology journal, show how a high-fat diet, rather than obesity itself, increases a molecule on T-helper cells called ST2.
This then allows an increased T-helper 2 response which expels the parasite from the large intestinal lining.
Co-lead on the research, Dr John Worthington from Lancaster University, said: “We were quite surprised by what we found during this study.
“High-fat diets are mostly associated with increased pathology during disease.
“However, in the case of whipworm infection this high-fat diet licences the T-helper cells to make the correct immune response to expel the worm.”
His peer, Professor Richard Grencis – from the University of Manchester – added: “Our studies in mice on a standard diet demonstrate that ST2 is not normally triggered when expelling the parasite, but the high-fat diet boosts the levels of ST2 and hence allows expulsion via an alternative pathway”.
However, Dr Worthington issued a word of caution.
“Before you order that extra take-away, we have previously published that weight loss can aid the expulsion of a different gut parasite worm,” he said.
“So these results may be context specific, but what is really exciting is the demonstration of how diet can profoundly alter the capacity to generate protective immunity and this may give us new clues for treatments for the millions who suffer from intestinal parasitic infections worldwide.”
It is thought more than 400 million people worldwide are affected by whipworm.
A whipworm infection, also known as trichuriasis, is associated with symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal pain, intestinal bleeding and anaemia.
It can also lead to malnutrition, with specific nutritional deficiencies including vitamin A, iron, and zinc.
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