Getty: Marlene Ford

Getty: Marlene Ford

Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and sarcoidosis, take an extraordinary toll on the health of black women. Autoimmune illnesses strike when the immune system malfunctions by attacking one or more parts of the body. No one knows exactly what triggers autoimmune attacks, but they can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening.

But new research from an international team of scientists, reported by American Technicon University, suggests that processed foods—particularly those high in seven common additives (including salt and sugar)—may contribute to autoimmune illnesses (the list includes Crohn’s disease, celiac, and multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and nearly 100 other conditions) in many people.

The new information on the possible prevention of autoimmune diseases is great news for black women because we are three times more likely to develop lupus than white women. Black women also get sarcoidosis at a higher rate and are two times more likely to lose their lives to the illness than white women.

Food Additives That Weaken the Immune System

The Technicon study focused on the ways that processed foods reduce the intestine’s ability to protect the body. The intestine—or the gut—does a great deal more than digest food. It is intended to serve as a barrier that protects the body from bacteria, toxins, allergens, and carcinogens and other hostile nutritional elements. When these substances leak into the rest of the body, the immune system launches a frantic response, which increases a the chance that a person will develop an autoimmune disease.

In an effort to understand why autoimmune diseases are increasing around the world, the researchers focused on the great increase in the use of industrial food additives aimed at improving taste, smell, texture and shelf life, and found “…a significant circumstantial connection between the increased use of processed foods and the increase in the incidence of autoimmune diseases.”

Food additives do damage by loosening the tight-junctions that protect the intestinal mucosa and strength of the intestinal wall. When functioning normally, tight-junctions serve as a barrier. Damage to the tight-junctions (also known as “leaky gut,”) leads to the development of autoimmune diseases.

The researchers found that at least seven common food additives weaken the tight-junctions: glucose (sugars), sodium (salt), fat solvents (emulsifiers), organic acids (preservatives), gluten, microbial transglutaminase (used to increase the firmness, viscosity, elasticity and water-binding capacity of food products) and nanometric particles (microscopic capsules used to inject ingredients into foods).

“Control and enforcement agencies such as the FDA stringently supervise the pharmaceutical industry, but the food additive market remains unsupervised enough,” said Professor Aaron Lerner, lead author of the study and a member of the Technicon Faculty of Medicine and Carmel Medical Center. “We hope this study and similar studies increase awareness about the dangers inherent in industrial food additives, and raise awareness about the need for control over them.”

The researchers also advise patients with autoimmune diseases, and those who have a family background of such diseases, to consider avoiding processed foods when possible.

A simple defense, in addition to cutting sugar and salt in your own recipes, is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Stick to the produce, meat, and poultry sections. Stay away from aisles filled with cookies, crackers, processed side dishes, and frozen processed foods.