How the Body Uses Fat to Fight Infection

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

We are all aware of how fat can be damaging to a healthy lifestyle. But, what if you were told that some fats could do your body more good than harm? According to new research, it has been found that all our immune defenses are made up of saturated fats. Infections of all kinds are a common problem in many parts of the world. Being familiar with the different ways that the body uses fat to fight infection can help you take steps to prevent them from occurring or know when you might need to see a physician.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition or disease. If you are sick, you should still consult with your doctor. Consuming fat is not meant to be a replacement for medication or any protocol that a doctor prescribes.

The Importance of Fat in Our Body

Most of the time, when people talk about fat and weight, it’s in relation to being overweight. But some fat is actually essential for our bodies to function properly.

Fat is one of the three main macronutrients found in food. The other two are protein and carbohydrates. Fat has nine calories per gram, which is more than double the amount found in protein and carbohydrates.

Some of the important roles of fats in our body include:

  • Energy storage: Fats are a storehouse for energy that can be released as needed by the body. That’s just one reason why it’s essential to include them in your diet.
  • Absorption of vitamins: There are certain vitamins, known as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), that cannot be absorbed without fat to help transport them through the body. Fats also help with the absorption of carotenoids (beta-carotene), a group of antioxidants that includes lycopene and lutein.
  • Build cell membranes: Cellular health is dependent on a healthy membrane, which requires fatty acids such as omega-3s and omega-6s. These fatty acids are also essential for neurological development, immune system function, and blood clotting.
  • Maintain normal growth and development: Fat is a significant source of energy and is essential to support normal growth, development, and cell function. The healthiest fats are unsaturated fats, and it comes from plant oils, nuts, and fish.

How Does Fat Help Our Body to Fight Infection?

According to a new study, it was found that our immune cells use our body’s fat stores to fight against infection. The research, which was published in the journal of Nature Communications, could help develop some new approaches to treat those suffering from bacterial infections.

The researchers concluded that their work could one day help treat infections in older and more vulnerable individuals. The team worked on Salmonella, which is a bacterial infection that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sepsis, and abdominal pain.

The UEA team linked up with the Quadram Institute and some colleagues at the Earlham Institute to trace consumption in live stem cells and track fatty acid movement. They went on to analyze the immune response to the bacterial infection, Salmonella. They did it by analyzing liver damage.

The team uncovered how blood stem cells could respond to infection by taking high-energy fatty acids from our body’s fat stores.

The team found that in the bone marrow where blood stem cells originate, infection signals drive adipocytes to release their fat stores into the blood as fatty acids.

They identified that these high-energy fatty acids are then absorbed by blood stem cells, effectively feeding them and enabling the stem cells to make millions of Salmonella-fighting white blood cells.

The researchers also recognized the mechanism by which the fatty acids are being transferred. They discussed the potential impact this new finding could have on the future treatment of infection.

Dr. Stuart Rushworth, who is from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, concluded that the results provide insight into how the immune system and the blood can respond to the infection. Fighting infection can take a lot of energy, and fat sources are massive energy deposits that provide fuel to blood stem cells to power up our immune response.

He also said that working out the mechanism through which this “fuel boost” works out gives us a lot of new ideas on how to strengthen human bodies to fight against infection in the near future.

Dr. Naiara Beraza from Quadram Institute said, “Our results allow us to understand how the immune system uses fat to boost the response to infection. Defining these mechanisms will help us to develop new therapeutics to treat infections in the liver.”