New research shows eating processed foods on a regular basis raises the risk of an earlier death. We already know in functional medicine that a processed foods diet typically leads to chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

The study, which was recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, tracked 44,000 adults in their late 50s for eight years.

On average, about a third of the participants’ diets were processed foods, including:

  • Instant noodles
  • Instant soups
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Energy bars and drinks
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Ready-made meals and snacks
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Any foods made using industrial processing

During the research periods, more than 600 subjects died, most of them from cancer and heart disease.

In examining the deaths and adjusting for general health, socioeconomic status, and influencing behaviors, and dietary compliance, the researchers noticed a clear trend — the more processed foods a person ate the more likely they were to die earlier.

They found that every 10 percent increase in processed food consumption was linked to a 14 percent higher chance of early death.

processed foods shorten lifeThe authors suggest the following possibilities for this increase:

High-temperature processing forms contaminants. Heating food at ultra-high temperatures alters protein structures in a way that rends them unrecognizable to the human body, therefore triggering an inflammatory reaction. High temperatures also cause the industrial oils used in processed foods to become toxic.

Additives can be carcinogenic. Food additives are essentially lab-produced chemicals not natural in the food chain and foreign to the human body. These chemicals can bind with proteins, thus creating new compounds unrecognizable to the immune system. Many of these chemicals are simply difficult to metabolize and eliminate, thus increasing an inflammatory toxic burden. Many chemical food additives have been linked to brain-based symptoms and disorders.

Functional medicine view of processed foods

In functional medicine we know processed foods are linked to chronic disease and increased mortality risk:

Industrial oils. The brain consists primarily of fat. The fats you consume determine your brain’s health. Industrial oils used in food processing are generally rancid due to their fragile structure. Eating them contributes to poor neuronal integrity and thus reduced brain health. They are also inflammatory to the body and brain. Even worse, the hydrogenated fats in many processed foods are linked with cognitive decline, heart disease, and inflammation.

Bad fatty acid ratio. Industrial oils are very high in omega 6 fatty acids. Humans need a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids of at least 4:1, although 1:1 is even better. Most Americans eat a ratio of 25:1 thanks to the industrial oils in processed foods. This is too much omega 6, which causes inflammation and promotes chronic disease.

High in processed carbohydrates. Unstable blood sugar from a sugary, high-carb diet — the hallmark of processed foods — is one of the biggest promoters of chronic disease and dementia.

Gluten. Most processed foods are loaded with gluten. Many people aren’t aware they have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. As a result, eating gluten keeps their body in a state of chronic inflammation, thus promoting disease. Gluten is linked with 55 diseases so far, most of them autoimmune such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Following a whole foods diet is the best way to improve your health. For more advice, contact my office.