The diet that makes you susceptible to sepsis

It’s a funny coincidence that the abbreviation for the standard American diet is SAD because the effect it has on your body is just that… sad.

The standard American diet or Western diet (which is high in saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods and low in fiber, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats) is linked to a higher risk of a long list of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s, liver damage, colon cancer and heart disease.

And now, a new study links this diet to another dangerous risk — a serious and potentially deadly condition called sepsis.

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The SAD-sepsis connection

Sepsis occurs when your immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection somewhere in your body (like pneumonia, a bladder infection, kidney infection, stomach infection, etc.) but things go awry. The immune system goes into overdrive triggering body-wide inflammation and a real risk of organ failure and death.

A new study from Portland State University shows that the Western diet may put people at a higher risk for sepsis.

In the study, researchers fed mice a diet that mimicked the Western diet (high in fat and sugar but low in fiber).

These mice were more likely to develop chronic inflammation, severe sepsis and die faster than mice who ate a healthier diet. Why?

Well, researchers determined that it wasn’t because of the effect the Western diet had on their weight or microbiome. It all came down to what it did to their immune system.

“The mice’s immune system on the Western diet looked and functioned differently,” said Brooke Napier, an assistant biology professor at PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and researcher involved in this study. “It looks like the diet is manipulating immune cell function so that you’re more susceptible to sepsis, and then when you get sepsis, you die quicker.”

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Eat the anti-Western diet and protect yourself from sepsis

So, if the Western or standard American diet is so bad for you, why not eat the opposite? Why not eat a diet that’s low in saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods and high in fiber and healthy fats?

Do you know what diet checks all those boxes?

The Mediterranean diet!

I love the Mediterranean diet because it’s sensible and the furthest thing away from a fad diet. While a lot of popular diets nowadays encourage you to cut out or severely limit entire food groups, the Mediterranean diet lets you eat most foods if you practice moderation. And wouldn’t you know it, a 2018 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that this healthy diet even lowers sepsis risk!

The rules of the Mediterranean diet are simple:

  • Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Eat moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Eat sweets and red meat only occasionally.
  • Avoid processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods.

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  1. Western diet may increase risk of severe sepsis, death, study finds — MedicalXpress
  2. Western diet regulates immune status and the response to LPS-driven sepsis independent of diet-associated microbiome — Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences of The United States of America
  3. Sepsis — Mayo Clinic
  4. 5 Reasons the “Western Diet” Is the Worst — Men’s Journal
  5. Adherence to Mediterranean-style diet and risk of sepsis in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) cohortBritish Journal of Nutrition
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and