Chewing Your Food Can Protect You From Illness

As a child, one is repeatedly advised by parents to chew the food properly before swallowing it. A recent study has proved that it was, is, and will be a pretty good advice to lend.

A new study reveals that chewing can stimulate the T helper 17 (Th17) cells, which is an immune cell and is extremely important in protecting our mouth from bacterial and fungal infections.

The study was conducted by researchers from The University of Manchester and The National Institutes of Health in the United States.

Experts suggest that damage caused by chewing can open up the path for friendly bacteria that can act upon the Th17 or immune cells.

The Th17 is present in other parts of the body such as gut and skin where they get stimulated by friendly bacteria. Prior to this study, it was widely believed that the same thing is applicable for the mouth as well, but now it has been revealed that the nutrients in food do not only help build the immune system, but how you eat it is also important.

Important Findings

The study points out that chewing food, which is also referred to as mastication, helps in releasing the Th17 cells in the mouth. However, the mechanism regarding its production is still not clear.

Th17 cells, which is a part of the adaptive immune system, uses specific antigens to fight against the potentially harmful pathogens while enduring "friendly" bacteria, which can be good for health.

However, there is another side to the story. The experts have warned that excessive production of Th17 cells in the mouth may increase the chance of periodontitis or gum disease occurrence, which has been associated with several other health concerns that include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.

The experts suggest that long-term exposure to physiological damage caused by mastication will worsen the effects of periodontitis.

"Importantly, because inflammation in the mouth is linked to development of diseases all around the body, understanding the tissue-specific factors that regulate immunity at the oral barrier could eventually lead to new ways to treat multiple inflammatory conditions," says Dr. Joanne Konkel, the lead researcher of the study.

She added that the research showed that our mouth has a different way of producing Th17 cells.

In the research, the theory was proven by altering the hardness of rat food. Weaning mice were provided with soft textured food, which required less chewing, for 24 weeks.

After 24 weeks, there was a significant decline in the amount of Th17 cell production in the rodents' mouths. The team concluded that the decline was because of the reduction in mastication-induced physiological damage.

The study was sponsored by the BBSRC and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and has been published in the journal Immunity.

Photo: Steven Depolo | Flickr

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