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.




The ability of a pathogen to cause infection depends on a successful invasion of the host, which, in turn, requires that the host’s various defence mechanisms are overcome. For the host, an infectious process is a highly complex situation to deal with, even in situations where the immune system is not disturbed by different toxic chemical substances or in the deficiency of essential nutrients. This is true for all the three phases (the incubation period, the acute phase, and the recovery phase) of a generalized infectious disease (Fig. 3, page 31), and which the host has to successfully control for survival. During each phase, characteristic host responses occur that can be assumed to have various sensitivities to adverse effects of xenobiotics, as well as supportive effects of nutrients. While an effect in any immune function can be potentially deleterious it does not necessarily mean that the host resistance to all or a specific microorganism is adversely affected.


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