Chewing helps fight infections
We have all heard the phrase “chew your food” while growing up. However, most of the times we really don’t pay attention to our food or whether we are chewing it or not. And sometimes life is such a big rush that we are literally washing down our food with our coffee.
But by not chewing we may be open to infections. That’s what the researchers at The University of Manchester say.
The researchers have discovered that chewing food also known as mastication stimulates the release of an immune cell called the T helper 17 (Th17) in our mouths that can protect us against infection.
The Th17 cells are important mediators of barrier immunity which uses specific antigens to protect against potential harmful pathogens while sustaining bacteria that are beneficial to our health.
The researchers are aware that of the development of Th17 cells in the gut and skin is linked to tissue-specific factors such as the presence of site-specific friendly bacteria.
However, researchers have been unclear of the mechanisms that produce Th17 cells in the mouth until now.
The researchers noted that the mechanical force needed for mastication caused physiological abrasion and damage in the mouth and set out to investigate whether this kind of damage was responsible for the stimulation of Th17 cells.
The research shows that the mouth has a different way of stimulating Th17 cells - not by the presence of good bacteria but by chewing.
Researchers fed weaning mice soft-textured food, which required less chewing until they reached 24 weeks of age. The rodents mouth was then examined for the release of Th17 cells and they found a significant reduction in Th17 cells. The researchers put that down to mastication-induced physiological damage.
To confirm their theory, researchers found that the production of Th17 cells increased due to an increase in the levels of physiological damage caused by rubbing the rodents’ oral cavity with a sterile cotton applicator.
This shows that the mouth has a different way of producing Th17 cells – not through good bacteria but by chewing or mastication. This is different from how Th17 is stimulated at other barrier sites like the gut and skin.
The study concluded that chewing food may protect us for infections and illness.
However, it also warns against excessive chewing.
Excessive production of Th17 cells can increase the risk of periodontitis or gum disease which is linked to other health conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers fed weaning mice hardened food pellets up until they were 24 weeks old and found that this group of mice showed more mastication-induced physiological damage in their mouths along with periodontal bone loss, compared to the group of mice that were fed soft-textured food.
This suggests that damage cause by excessive mastication can intensify periodontitis.
Researchers say that this study is important because inflammation in the mouth is associated with the development of many diseases and helps them understand the tissue-specific factors that control immunity in the mouth. These findings can lead to new ways of combating various illnesses and treating inflammatory conditions.
So, next time be mindful of what you eat and remember to chew your food, but just enough to stimulate infection-fighting cells.
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