The Effects of ENDOTOXINS on your HEALTH

In nature, organisms have developed ways to defend themselves by producing poisonous and harmful substances called toxins. Toxins are substances produced within living cells or organisms that can have a detrimental effect on other living organisms. Endotoxins are bacterial toxins from Gram-negative bacteria, (‘endo’ meaning ‘internal’, a part of the bacteria itself).

An endotoxin is a pyrogen (fever-causing agent) and is the key component of the exterior cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria, like Salmonella or Escherichia coli. Its structure is composed of lipids and sugar complexes. This structure is also called a lipopolysaccharide or LPS and is a vital component for Gram-negative bacteria to maintain cell wall integrity. Endotoxins consist of three parts, the O-antigen, the Core oligosaccharide, and the Lipid-A. The O-antigen, which is the outermost structure, is called an antigen because it is the target for the recognition of the host or human immune response.

The Immune Response To Endotoxins

Once inside the body, immune cells will recognize the bacteria as foreign. The bacteria can sometimes evade destruction but it is normally degraded by our defense system. The endotoxins are then released from the bacterial cell walls and enter into our circulation where they exert their damaging effects.

Bacteria With Endotoxins

There are numerous clinically significant Gram-negative bacteria, but some of the most prominent ones are: [1]

  • 1. Bordetella pertussis, a causative agent for whooping cough
  • 2. Neisseria meningitides, a bacterium which causes meningitis and meningococcemia
  • 3. Neisseria gonorrhea
  • 4. Cholera
  • 5. Salmonella typhi, the causative agent for typhoid fever and Escherichia coli.

Since an endotoxin infection can have severe consequences, healthcare products such as vaccines, antibiotics or intravenous solutions are needed. Otherwise, if sufficient endotoxin gets into the bloodstream or spinal fluid, we can develop fever, shock, organ failure, or, in extreme cases, death.

Healthy Food Choices

The Gram-negative bacteria can be found everywhere in nature, from land and marine environments to animals used for food. Because of this, Gram-negative bacteria infections are very common. One myth that exists is that endotoxin diseases can be avoided after heating food. However, the danger lies in the fact that even though the bacteria dies after heating contaminated food, the lipopolysaccharides that constitute its cellular wall are released, and these are resistant to heat. In fact, these endotoxins are also resistant to the stomach acidity and our digestive enzymes.

A recent study has shown that diet is very much associated with endotoxins and its levels in the human body. The goal of the study was to assess whether endotoxin levels could be affected by dietary means. The conclusion was obvious – healthy dietary choices, such as consumption of fresh vegetables, and fruits and berries can be associated with positive health outcomes.

But why?

Because some foods come with their own endotoxins. Even foods that are fresh, such as fresh meat, eggs and dairy may release endotoxins when the animal is dead. Processed foods and high fat meals were also found to have high endotoxin levels. 

These endotoxins from foods lead to chronic low-grade inflammation if consumed on a regular basis. [4]

In fact, research suggests that people in a compromised metabolic state such as people suffering from chronic disease will have their condition exacerbated more rapidly because of the greater exposure to endotoxins. [5]

Conclusion

If your diet is based on meats, saturated fat rich foods and/or processed foods, including processed vegetables, with low phytonutrient levels, then there is a very high chance that you will absorb endotoxins leading to exacerbation of existing chronic conditions,  as well as low grade inflammation leading to chronic disease in the future. A healthier diet, rich in natural plant-based proteins such as legumes of all sorts, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables, will help prevent endotoxin exposure and lead to an overall healthier body and life.

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References:

  • [1] Effects of Endotoxin in Normal Human Volunteers. ClinicalTrials.gov, 2018 July 05.
  • [2] K. Radon. The two sides of the “endotoxin coin”. Occup Environ Med. 2006 Jan; 63(1): 73–78. doi: 10.1136/oem.2004.017616
  • [3] Perrine André, Fabienne Laugerette, Catherine Féart. Metabolic Endotoxemia: A Potential Underlying Mechanism of the Relationship between Dietary Fat Intake and Risk for Cognitive Impairments in Humans?. Nutritional Status, Nutritional Habits and Their Underlying Mechanisms on Neurodegenerative Diseases. 2008 2019, August 13; doi: 10.3390/nu11081887.
  • [4] Erridge C. The capacity of foodstuffs to induce innate immune activation of human monocytes in vitro is dependent on food content of stimulants of Toll-like receptors 2 and 4. Br J Nutr. 2011 Jan;105(1):15-23. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003004. Epub 2010 Sep 20. PMID: 20849668.
  • [5] Harte AL, Varma MC, Tripathi G, McGee KC, Al-Daghri NM, Al-Attas OS, Sabico S, O’Hare JP, Ceriello A, Saravanan P, Kumar S, McTernan PG. High fat intake leads to acute postprandial exposure to circulating endotoxin in type 2 diabetic subjects. Diabetes Care. 2012 Feb;35(2):375-82. doi: 10.2337/dc11-1593. Epub 2011 Dec 30. PMID: 22210577; PMCID: PMC3263907.

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