Food and InflammasomesJune 01, 2015
Fire, Fire, Cells on Fire: Inflammasomes II
Reference: Scientific American June 2015, Wen Nature Immunology
We learned last week that inflammasomes are activated when “stranger” and “danger” signals are present. Bacteria and viruses can do it, but so can foreign chemicals like asbestos and amyloid in our brains. The inflammasome is essentially a little factory that propels the inflammatory process forward and turns on the signaling in the cell and its surroundings that trouble is brewing.
When you have a cut finger and get redness around it, it is because your local macrophages have made inflammasomes inside themselves that are putting out the chemicals that make that factory become assembled, and then produce its inflammatory signaling messages.
But that’s not all. Food can do it. Eating too much food sets off inflammation. Fatty acids can do it too. A healthy liver has many immune cells within it, and is the first recipient of calories after a meal. The liver can become inflamed and swollen when it is overwhelmed with too many calories. We have an epidemic of fatty liver in obese children right now. It appears that fructose plays a central role in that process.
What happens when you eat too much fructose (sugar)? We know that it essentially exhausts your liver because it forces the liver to use up its ATP, resulting in a burst of uric acid and a burst of triglyceride release – as dramatic as with drinking alcohol. Your liver gets swollen and doesn’t work very well. You can see large globules of fat in it. It can’t make an orderly progression of LDLs to transport the extra calories to your fat cells, where the fat can be stored.
Instead, you have a wild, uncontrolled release of free fatty acids into the blood. We call those triglycerides. We know that triglycerides reflect a higher risk for heart disease than total cholesterol, particularly in women. And that would make perfect sense because triglycerides reflect the presence of inflammation in the liver, spewing out inflammatory messages to the whole body. The interesting thing about food is that its inflammatory effect seems to be about 24 hours and then it cools off. Immune cells stop responding to the inflammatory messages after a while.
The next door to be opened is just what on earth keeps the inflammatory process going and going. Adenosine may be that signal. And when you eat fructose and overwhelm your liver, you break down ATP and make adenosine. That points a particular finger at fructose again! How can we turn all this off? Fasting! Or eating a “ketogenic” diet that makes you put out beta-hydroxybutyrate. Imagine, turning off inflammation by eating fat.
WWW. What will work for me. I know this is true. Eating fat reduces inflammation. My 70% fat diet for the last 4 months has reduced my CRP from 3.8 to 0.3, in just 4 months. I’m getting better at saying no to sugar if I can just keep away from brownies and chocolate. I believe that the alleged triglyceride activation of inflammasomes is actually a misplaced association – the triglycerides reflecting the excessive intake of fructose/sugar we Americans are obsessed with. It’s the sugar.
- Inflammation can be started by eating too much food? T or F Answer: True
- Sugar seems to be able to turn on inflammation as well? T or F Answer: Perfect
- Fructose, from sugar, makes for fatty liver? T or F Answer: T
- Inflammasomes in the liver are caused by eating too much food and too much sugar. T or F. Answer: I’m beating a dead horse here, but I want you to get the point.
- You can turn off inflammation by eating a keto-genic diet – aka, high fat? T or F Answer: True
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate is the compound your body puts out when you are burning fat, either from your fat cells or from the food you eat – and it happens only when you eat less than 20 grams of carbs a day. T or F Answer: Pretty close to accurate. Some quibbling on details.