Common food additive may weaken defenses against influenza
Orlando, Fla. (April 7, 2019) - Research conducted in mice suggests the food additive tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ)--found in many common products from frozen meat to crackers and fried foods--suppresses the immune response the body mounts when fighting the flu. In addition to increasing the severity of flu symptoms, the study found evidence that tBHQ exposure could reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine through its effects on T cells, a vital component of the immune system.
"Our studies showed that mice on a tBHQ diet had a weakened immune response to influenza (flu) infection," said Robert Freeborn, a fourth-year PhD candidate at Michigan State University. "In our mouse model, tBHQ suppressed the function of two types of T cells, helper and killer T cells. Ultimately, this led to more severe symptoms during a subsequent influenza infection."
When a person is infected with influenza virus, helper T cells direct other parts of the immune system and help coordinate an appropriate response, while killer T cells hunt down infected cells and clear them from the body. In their experiments, the researchers found mice eating a tBHQ-spiked diet were slower to activate both helper T cells and killer T cells, resulting in slower clearance of the virus.