Study: excessive salt messes with immune system too

Too much salt can raise one's blood pressure, but it may also weaken our immune response, suggests a study recently conducted in Germany.

Salt disrupts the respiratory chain in cells. Working with biochemist and metabolomics expert Dr. Stefan Kempa of BIMSB, the researchers began in the lab by looking at the metabolism of immune cells that had been exposed to high salt concentrations. Changes appeared after just three hours. "It disrupts the respiratory chain, causing the cells to produce less ATP and consume less oxygen," explains Geisberger. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the universal fuel that powers all cells. It provides energy for the "chemical work" – synthesizing proteins and other molecules – required for muscle power and metabolic regulation. ATP is produced in the mitochondria, the cell's "power plant," using a complex series of biochemical reactions known as the respiratory chain. "Salt very specifically inhibits complex II in the respiratory chain."

This has consequences: The lack of energy causes the monocytes to mature differently. "The phagocytes, whose task is to identify and eliminate pathogens in the body, were able to fight off infections more effectively. But this could also promote inflammation, which might increase cardiovascular risk," explains Müller.

The effect is quick after the salty stuff goes down the hatch, but subsides after several hours. So recovery is quick after a snack, but regular consumption of very salty food results in constant inhibition of the enzyme at hand.