DW: As part of your research, you fed mice the equivalent of a Western diet rich in refined sugar, salt and saturated fats - so no fresh fruit or vegetables. What were you able to see?
Eicke Latz: What we see after the first few days [is that] the mice get a little sick - something they would get if they had an infection. So you can see that the blood cells start to grow in a certain direction, the bone marrow makes more monocytes and neutrophils - immune cells. And you see a lot of cytokines, these are mediators that immune cells make to alert other immune cells that there's something going on. So it looked like an infection.
Dr. Eicke Latz
So people who have inflammation in their bodies due to other illnesses - is this going to be exacerbated by the Western diet?
Yes. We know from medical studies that diets can have an impact on inflammation in other diseases - for example, rheumatoid arthritis patients. They know when they've had a "sinful" diet, if I may say so, because they do worse the following day or the following week.
So I probably should give up the packet of chips and the chocolate and the bottles of Coke.
Yes, you should.
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Would there be any change in our bodies if we stopped eating a diet rich in sugar, salt, saturated fats and replaced it with a healthy one? Would our bodies go back to the way they once were?
What we found is that dietary changes to regular diets - with the mice it's called the "chow diet," which is a grain-based diet - led to changes. But it took a long time for the immune system to calm down. In fact, even four weeks after a dietary change, we could still see activated immune cells sitting in the body and all kinds of places, waiting for potential other triggers, like infections.
Possibly flame broiled - and likely inflammatory
Is there any indication that what I eat now - that my children or my grandchildren might suffer from that in future?
We're actually studying this. So [with mice], we froze the sperm of the fathers that had this Western-type diet, and also the fathers that first had a Western-type diet and then went back to a regular "chow diet." And we wanted to make new mice using the sperm and study their immune systems and see whether the grandfather or the father that had the wrong diet - whether this is transmitted. Because there are indications from other areas, for example with diabetes, that these types of what we call "epigenetic changes" can also be transmitted to the second or even the third generation.
Dr. Eicke Latz is the director of the Institute for Innate Immunity at the University of Bonn and a researcher at the the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).
The long arm of the octopus
Known as san-nakji in Korean, the freshly severed and uncooked tentacles of a longarm octopus are a delicacy. Even after being detached from the animal's body and drizzled with sesame oil, they continue to move. And because their suction caps are still active when the dish is served, diners are advised to chew very carefully to ensure their dinner doesn't attach to their throats and choke them.
Mushrooms are a global delight, the picking as much as the eating. However, given the similarity in appearance between different species of fungi, it pays to err on the side of caution when foraging. Amanita phalloides, also known as 'the death cap', is a case in point. A highly poisonous specimen, just half a cap is deemed enough to kill a human being, primarily through kidney and liver damage.
For those who eat the giant Namibian bullfrog, timing is everything. The rule to adhere to is not to kill it before the so-called "third rains", which have probably not yet occurred if the frog is croaking excessively. Anyone who doesn't want to wait that long must line the cooking pot with dry wood. The price for ignoring this old wisdom could be fatal kidney failure.
Elderberries are packed full of a flavor that lends itself to syrups, pie seasonings, jams, chutneys and even a liqueur, but they should always be cooked, and used only when ripe. In their raw form, they contain a toxic alkaloid. And even worse, elderberry leaves and stems can produce the lethal cyanide and should be left out of the kitchen altogether. So think again on that elderberry leaf tea!
One of the most expensive delicacies in Japanese cuisine is fugu, a pufferfish, whose liver, intestines and ovaries contain a lethal neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. Only those with a special license are allowed to handle the fish, which has claimed several lives over the last decade. Death from fugu is said to be very painful.
Although not quite as rare as pufferfish, the humble spud can also pack a poisonous punch. It's all about the color. Although we're told to eat our greens, that advice does not apply to potatoes. Green ones can contain a toxic compound known as solanine, which if consumed in high enough concentrations, might lead to vomiting, headaches and in extreme cases coma or death.
Fermented shark anyone?
The ancient Viking dish of hákarl, or decomposed Greenland shark, has endured as a national dish of Iceland. Because the animals are toxic to humans, once caught, they are decapitated and buried in sand, gravel and stones for up to 12 weeks - time enough for their liquids to seep out and for fermentation to take place. They are then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months.
Not always a star
Carambola, more commonly known as starfruit, are sweet and tempting additions to a vibrant platter. But foodies beware — they contain an unnamed neurotoxin that, while easily processed through healthy kidneys, can cause serious problems for anyone with kidney disease.