(HealthDay News) – A salty diet could contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, according to research published in the March 6 issue of Nature.

In the three studies, researchers detail how salt may overstimulate the immune system. In one, David Hafler, MD, from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CN, and colleagues found that giving mice a high-salt diet caused the rodents to produce a type of infection-fighting cell that is closely associated with autoimmune diseases. The mice on salt diets developed a severe form of multiple sclerosis, called autoimmune encephalomyelitis.

In addition to Hafler’s research, scientists from the Broad Institute in Boston explored how genes regulate the immune response, and researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston zeroed in on how autoimmunity is controlled by a network of genes. All three studies help explain, each from a different angle, how “helper” T-cells can drive autoimmune diseases by creating inflammation. Salt seems to cause enzymes to stimulate the creation of the helper T-cells, escalating the immune response.

“The diet does affect the autoimmune system in ways that have not been previously recognized,” Hafler told HealthDay.

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