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Less Salt Consumption Boosts Autoimmune Disease Protection


Excessive consumption of salt has been suspected for a long time to be one of the possible causes of the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases observed in recent years, as animal models have revealed this promotes the activation of cells with high inflammatory activity (T-helper 17 lymphocytes).

Starting from this assumption, a research group led by Prof. Guido Valesini from the Sapienza Department of Internal Medicine and Medical Specialties monitored the correlation between the intake of salt in food and autoimmune diseases. The study, which has just been published on Plos One, demonstrates how salt may have a pro-inflammatory effect on immune system cells of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, two of the most common autoimmune diseases.

To understand the biological effects of salt intake in patients with autoimmune disease, researchers set up a five-week study, modulating salt intake in the diet. The results confirmed the initial intuition: a reduction in the frequency of pro-inflammatory lymphocytes was observed in all patients after the first 3 weeks of a low salt diet. Moreover, a subsequent increase in lymphocytes was recorded at the end of the study (i.e. after 2 weeks of saline accumulation) even within the threshold use of 5 grams of salt per day, which is the normosodic regime established by the World Health Organization.

"Understanding whether a modifiable factor such as the diet may have effects on these diseases is important,” explains Guido Valesini, “because it will provide an additional weapon available against autoimmune diseases both at the therapeutic and prevention levels in subjects at risk for familiarity."



The Role of Dietary Sodium Intake on the Modulation of T Helper 17 Cells and Regulatory T Cells in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Scrivo R, Massaro L, Barbati C, Vomero M, Ceccarelli F, et al. (2017) PLOS ONE 12(9):e0184449.