Dietary Habits Bursting into the Complex Pathogenesis of Autoimmune Diseases: The Emerging Role of Salt from Experimental and Clinical Studies

Nutrients. 2019 May 5;11(5):1013. doi: 10.3390/nu11051013.


The incidence and prevalence of autoimmune diseases have increased in Western countries over the last years. The pathogenesis of these disorders is multifactorial, with a combination of genetic and environmental factors involved. Since the epidemiological changes cannot be related to genetic background, which did not change significantly in that time, the role of environmental factors has been reconsidered. Among these, dietary habits, and especially an excessive salt, typical of processed foods, has been implicated in the development of autoimmune diseases. In this review, we summarize current evidence, deriving both from experimental models and clinical studies, on the capability of excessive salt intake to exacerbate proinflammatory responses affecting the pathogenesis of immune-mediated diseases. Data on several diseases are presented, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease, with many of them supporting a proinflammatory effect of salt. Likewise, a hypertonic microenvironment showed similar effects in experimental models both in vivo and in vitro. However, murine models of spontaneous autoimmune polyneuropathy exposed to high salt diet suggest opposite outcomes. These results dictate the need to further analyse the role of cooking salt in the treatment and prevention of autoimmune diseases, trying to shape a fine tuning between the possible advantages of a restricted salt intake and the changes in circulating metabolites, mediators, and hormones which come along salt consumption and could in turn influence autoimmunity.

Keywords: Th17 cells; Treg cells; autoimmunity; environmental factors; inflammatory bowel disease; multiple sclerosis; rheumatoid arthritis; salt; sodium chloride; systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Analysis*
  • Humans
  • Sodium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Sodium Chloride / adverse effects*
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / adverse effects*


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • Sodium Chloride