Aging, a High Fat Diet + Your Immune System

People sometimes ask me, what area of the practice do I want to specialize in? That’s easy – GI (gastrointestinal). 

ALL DYSFUNCTION STARTS IN THE GUT. While your skin does a beautiful job of protecting the system from outside invaders, when you eat, you’re body is literally absorbing the environment. There are no other times when your unprotected tissues are in such close contact with the world.

Maybe that’s why 70% of your immune system is in the gut.

And why your gut has more nerve endings than your spine.  

And why there are more bacterial cells in your gut than human cells in your entire body. We call that massive colony of bacteria your gut microbiome + we’re only beginning to understand the extent that happy bugs make a healthy person + angry bugs make a sick person. 

It turns out that aging + a high fat diet wreak havoc on microflora + causes the inflammation that causes heart failure.

The connection between a high-fat diet, aging, and risk of diabetes + other chronic dysfunction is well known, but new information shows that these factors may impact the immune system in ways we haven’t yet discovered.

Researchers are studying how a high-calorie diet (enriched with omega-6 fatty acids like safflower + soybean oils) affect the gut microbiome, the structure + function of the spleen (a secondary immune organ), and the immune response to a heart attack.

Dr. Ganesh Halade + his team at the University of Alabama found that a high-calorie, high-fat, obesity-generating diet in elderly mice destroyed the gut microbiome, which may cause widespread chronic inflammation + acute heart failure. It also changed the types of immune cells your body usually uses to fight immediate threats.

Scientists already know that the foods we eat interact with gut microbes to moderate the body’s immune system. Dr. Halade discovered that a high-calorie, high-fat diet increased the production of bacteria Allocholum Phylum Firmicutes (a harmful bug) in mice. It also raised the neutrophil content in the blood of young + old mice, indicting a response from the immune system. 

After a heart attack, leukocytes are released by the spleen and sent to the heart to reduce inflammation + begin tissue repair. Halade discovered the mice eating a high-calorie, high-fat diet had deformities in the structure of their spleens, and this caused a drop in macrophages (another immune cell) + an imbalance in the neutrophil-leukocyte balance after a heart attack.

Young mice that consumed the high-calorie, high-fat diet were still able to reverse inflammation post-heart attack, despite their gut microflora being altered. Unfortunately, older mice experienced non-resolving chronic inflammation as a result of the heart attack + this inflammation is linked to heart failure. 

While this study was conducted in mice, there are important points for us to consider. 

JUST ONE high-calorie, high-fat meal is associated with increased risk of heart disease. Choosing nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods that prevent weight gain – most of the time – is always wise.

Foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids + their impact on inflammation isn’t well understood, but some studies show they may have anti-inflammatory properties and it’s important to balance them with omega-3.

There are multiple factors that impact our gut microbiome, and while we can’t stop aging, being mindful of our fiber intake, pre- + probiotic intake, antibiotic use and stress can go a long way toward improving our quality of life. 

Copyright foodandhealth.com, reprinted with permission


If you’re currently eating a high-calorie, high-fat, low-fiber diet, I encourage you to take a step towards a healthier balance. It can be as simple + easy as you wanna make it. 

Maybe you eat a small salad or veggie soup before each dinner. Maybe you just scoop twice as much veggies onto every dinner (+ lunch?) plate as you do now. Maybe, if you have the time, you commit to experimenting with new ways to prepare + season veggies every day for a week (or month!).

You know what’s best for you + your needs + your lifestyle better than I ever can. Make a move that works for YOU!

If you’re gonna eat more veggies, you’re gonna have to buy more veggies. And you’re gonna have to buy more veggies, you might be wondering what are the pros + cons of fresh or frozen produce, what’s the difference between cage free + grass fed, and is buying organic worth it? If that sounds like you, then check out my free Supermarket Bootcamp workshop!

Supermarket Bootcamp is just like getting a personal, 1-on-1 tour of your local supermarket + getting all the details from a Registered Dietitian. Except you get to do it in your underwear. And except Tiffany’s still-but-not-for-much-longer a dietetics student studying for her board exam. But everything else is exactly like that.

Enjoy!

xoxo,