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Too much salt suppresses phagocytes

Add more salt? Better not: that can severely disrupt the energy balance of immune cells. |© Felix Petermann, MDC

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It has been known for some time that salt not only drives up blood pressure, but can also throw the immune system out of balance. Now scientists have uncovered how salt affects certain cells of the immune system. The DZHK funded the work, which has now been published in the scientific journal "Circulation".

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In the laboratory, the researchers exposed the precursor cells of macrophages - also called phagocytes - to an increased salt concentration. Changes appeared after just three hours. A component of the salt - the sodium ion - triggered an energy deficiency in the cells. This changed the function of the macrophages and could thus promote inflammatory diseases of the vessels, joints or autoimmune diseases. The risk of cardiovascular diseases could also increase.

In a study, the researchers examined whether and how significantly too much salt in food affects humans. Even a pizza with about ten grams of salt is enough to slow down the phagocytes - but the effect does not last long and is almost gone after eight hours. However, if people eat heavily salty meals several times a day, this could lead to the cells being undersupplied in the long term - with the consequence that the risk of inflammatory diseases could increase. The researchers suspect that too much salt also affects muscle, nerve, sensory and egg cells.

Original Study:
Salt transiently inhibits mitochondrial energetics in mononuclear phagocytes. Geisberger S et al., 2021 Circulation, DOI:

Source: Press release of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine