Parasitic worms affect over one billion people globally, especially in developing nations with poor sanitation. One of the most common parasites, the whipworm, causes long-lasting infections in the large intestine, leading to death and illness in many cases. But new research from Lancaster University and the University of Manchester shows that a high-fat diet could help eliminate the parasite, improving the lives of millions of people around the world.
The Importance of T-Helper 2 Cells in Parasite Elimination
Immune responses that expel parasitic worms rely on white blood cells called T-helper 2 cells. These cells are specialized in eliminating gastrointestinal parasites, and they play a crucial role in the body’s defense against parasitic infections. In the new study, researchers used a mouse model (Trichuris muris) that closely resembles the human whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) to study the impact of a high-fat diet on parasite elimination.
How High-Fat Diets Help Expel Parasites
The results, published in the journal “Mucosal Immunology,” showed that a high-fat diet increases a molecule on T-helper cells called ST2. This increase in ST2 levels allows for a stronger T-helper 2 response, which expels the parasite from the large intestine. In other words, a high-fat diet “licenses” the T-helper cells to make the correct immune response to expel the whipworm.
The researchers were surprised by these findings, as high-fat diets are usually associated with increased pathology during disease. However, in the case of whipworm infection, the high-fat diet improved the body’s ability to fight the parasite.
“It was really fascinating that simply altering the diet completely switched the immune response in the gut from one that fails to expel the parasite, to one that brings about all the correct mechanisms to eliminate it,” said co-lead Professor David Thornton from the University of Manchester.
The Role of ST2 in Parasite Elimination
The researchers found that ST2 is not normally triggered when expelling the parasite, but the high-fat diet boosts ST2 levels, allowing the parasite to be expelled via an alternative pathway. This finding highlights the importance of ST2 in parasite elimination and the role of diet in regulating the immune response.
Caution is Advised
The researchers caution that these findings may not apply to other parasites or diseases, and more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between diet, parasites, and immunity. In a previous study, the researchers found that weight loss can aid in the expulsion of another gut parasite, which suggests that the results of this study may be context-specific.
“Before you order that extra take-away, we have previously published that weight loss can aid the expulsion of a different gut parasite worm. 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,” said co-lead Dr John Worthington from Lancaster University.
This new research highlights the impact of diet on the body’s ability to fight parasitic worms, and it offers hope for millions of people affected by these infections. By understanding the role of T-helper cells and ST2 in parasite elimination, scientists may be able to develop new treatments and therapies that improve the lives of people affected by these diseases. While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between diet and parasites, these findings represent a significant step forward in our understanding of how to fight parasitic infections.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
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