Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissue.
For example, in multiple sclerosis—the most common inflammatory disease of the central nervous system—the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are targeted by the immune system.
The subsequent damage impedes messages traveling to and from the brain, resulting in progressively worsening symptoms like numbness, muscle weakness, coordination and balance problems, and cognitive decline.
Currently, there are no treatments that strongly slow or stop multiple sclerosis without greatly increasing the risk of infection or cancer.
In a recent study from Van Andel Research Institute, researchers found that reducing amino acid methionine in the daily diet could slow the progression of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
The study is published in Cell Metabolism. The lead author is Russell Jones, Ph.D., the program leader of Van Andel Institute’s Metabolic and Nutritional Programming group.
Previous research has shown that methionine is critical for a healthy immune system. The methionine that fuels these specialized cells, called T cells, must be ingested through food consumption.
Although methionine is found in most foods, animal products such as meat and eggs contain particularly high levels.
During an immune response, T cells flood the affected area to help the body fend off pathogens.
In the study, the team found that dietary methionine fuels this process by helping “reprogram” T cells to respond to the threat by more quickly replicating and differentiating into specialized subtypes.
Some of these reprogrammed T cells cause inflammation, which is a normal part of immune response but can cause damage if it lingers, such as the nerve damage that occurs in multiple sclerosis.
The team says for people predisposed to inflammatory and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, reducing methionine intake can actually dampen the immune cells that cause disease, leading to better outcomes.
These findings provide further basis for dietary interventions as future treatments for these disorders.
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