Additive In Common Foods May Worsen Flu: Scientists

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London: A little-known antioxidant found in frozen meat – especially fish – butter, fried food and crackers, suppresses the body’s immune response to infection, experts have said.

Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), also known as E319, not only increases the severity of flu symptoms, but may also reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, say US researchers. They believe the link may help explain why flu worldwide has not been eradicated, The Independent reported Eureka Alert as saying.

E319, which is banned in some countries including Japan, does not have to be declared in the ingredients lists. It is most common in high-fat foods, where it is used as a preservative.

“If you get a vaccine, but part of the immune system doesn’t learn to recognise and fight off virus-infected cells, then this can cause the vaccine to be less effective,” said Robert Freeborn, a PhD student at Michigan State University. “Our studies showed that mice on a TBHQ diet had a weakened immune response to influenza infection. In our mouse model, TBHQ suppressed the function of two types of T cells, helper and killer T cells. Ultimately, this led to more severe symptoms during a subsequent influenza infection.”

T cells are involved in the immune response to a variety of diseases, so TBHQ could also play a role in other infectious diseases, Mr Freeborn added.

The World Health Organization says a pandemic is only a matter of time.

TBHQ, which is derived from petrol and is also used as a varnish, seems to impair the vaccine’s memory of how to fight off a virus, he said.

The additive is also found in the UK in ice cream, microwave popcorn, cooking oils, crisps and chicken nuggets. Mr Freeborn said the best way to avoid it was by having a low-fat diet and cutting down on processed snacks.