A new study by Michigan State University scientists has found that a common preservative in food could reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
The additive called Tert-butylhydroquinone or tBHQ is found in food products like cooking oil, frozen meat and fish as well as processed snacks like crackers and chips.
Food manufacturers don’t always have to include the additive on ingredient lists.
In laboratory mice, spartan researchers found that eating the preservative slowed down parts of the immune system and prevented other parts from responding properly to the flu vaccine.
“If you get a vaccine, but part of the immune system doesn’t learn to recognize and fight off virus-infected cells, then this can cause the vaccine to be less effective,” said Robert Freeborn, a fourth-year doctoral student who led the study. “We determined that when tBHQ was introduced through the diet, it affected certain cells that are important in carrying out an appropriate immune response to the flu.”
The additive not only reduced the ability for the body to fight off an infection sooner, but a second phase of the study showed it also made it harder for the body to recognize the virus which resulted in a longer recovery time.
“It’s important for the body to be able to recognize a virus and remember how to effectively fight it off,” Freeborn said. “That’s the whole point of vaccines, to spur this memory and produce immunity. TBHQ seems to impair this process.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and presented in an Experimental Biology meeting on April 7th.