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Chew Your Food: Study Reveals Chewing Longer Fights Illness

Update Date: Jan 21, 2017 10:06 AM EST

The benefits of chewing food longer are more than just to prevent choking. Now, a new study says that chewing food prompts the release of an immune cell that can protect against infection.

In the study published in the journal Cell Immunity, a team of researchers at the University of Manchester found that chewing food properly can boost the mouth's immune system to protect the body against illness. The specific type of immune cell, Th17 cell, can be triggered during chewing.

The Th17 cell in the other parts of the body, such as the gut and skin, can be stimulated by the presence of normal flora or friendly bacteria. In the past, scientists knew this was also the case in the mouth since how the immune cells were activated in the mouth remained unclear.

Chewing Induces A Protective Immune Response

However, the researchers found that the damage caused by the abrasion of chewing induced factors from the gums that could activate the same pathways as friendly bacteria and act upon the immune cells, Medical Xpress reports.

The scientists landed on their findings by feeding weaning mice soft-textured foods, which required less chewing until they reach 24 weeks old. At 24 weeks, the release of the immune cells in the mouths of the mice was measured.

The team found a marked reduction in oral Th17 cells production, which was due to the decrease in mastication-induced physiological damage. To confirm their theory, the researchers found that increasing the level of physiological damage to the mouths of the rodents, by rubbing the oral cavity with a sterile cotton applicator, led to an increased production of the Th17 cells.

"The immune system performs a remarkable balancing act at barrier sites such as the skin, mouth and gut by fighting off harmful pathogens while tolerating the presence of normal friendly bacteria," Dr. Joanne Konkel, lead author of the study, said as reported by Medical News Today.

"Our research shows that, unlike at other barriers, the mouth has a different way of stimulating Th17 cells: not by bacteria but by mastication. Therefore mastication can induce a protective immune response in our gums," she added.

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