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Interactions between Infections, Nutrients and Xenobiotics

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During recent years there have been several incidents where symptoms of disease have been linked to consumption of food contaminated by chemical substances (e.g. TCDD). Furthermore, outbreaks of infections in food producing animals have attracted major attention with regards to the safety for consumers (e.g., BSE and influenza in chicken). As shown for several xenobiotics in an increasing number of experimental studies, even low-dose xenobiotic exposure may impair immune function over time, as well as microorganism virulence, resulting in more severe infectious diseases and possibly other diseases as well. Also, during ongoing infection, xenobiotic uptake and distribution is often changed resulting in increased toxic insult to the host. The interactions between infectious agents, nutrients, and xenobiotics have thus become a developing concern and new avenue of research in food toxicology, as well as in food-born diseases. From a health perspective, in the risk assessment of xenobiotics in our food and environment, synergistic effects between microorganisms, nutrients, and xenobiotics will have to be considered. Such effects may otherwise gradually change the disease panorama in society. The author of this report is senior food toxicologist at the National Food Administration, Uppsala, Sweden. He is PhD and Adjunct Professor in Experimental Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine, Uppsala University, Sweden, and a great part of his scientific production has been devoted to the theme covered in this report.

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Changed Metabolism in Infection

To attain a satisfactory functioning of the immune defence system a large amount of nutrients are required (Beisel, 1998), which is also likely true for active and replicating microorganisms in infected tissues. In the infected host the number of microorganisms can increase from just a few to literally millions during the course of a few days. Thus, the host’ and the microorganisms’ demands for nutrients run much in parallel. To meet the needs of the activated immune defence the host metabolic rate starts to increase during the incubation period of an infection and shows a sharp further increase as symptoms appear (Beisel, 1998). The acute phase of an infection is often associated with fever and it is generally estimated that, for every centigrade of increase, the metabolic rate increases by about 13% (Beisel, 1998).

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