Western Diet Increases Risk of Severe Sepsis and Death


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines sepsis as “the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have —in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.” [1]

Sepsis is the 11th most common cause of death worldwide.

According to a new study [2] headed up by Dr. Brooke Napier, consumption of the Western diet may significantly increase the risk of developing severe sepsis. The Western diet is comprised of:

  • 25% carbohydrates, largely from refined sugar and minimal-to-no fiber
  • 44% fats, with a 5:2 ratio favoring saturated fats over polyunsaturated fats
  • 31% protein

Excess sodium is also noted in the Western diet, with amounts of 7,000 mg daily being common.

In Dr. Napier’s study, compared to mice fed a normal diet that included ample amounts of fiber, mice that were fed the Western diet were found to have increases in chronic inflammation and sepsis severity, along with higher mortality rates. According to Dr. Napier, these findings of more severe sepsis and death are believed to be because of something contained in the Western diet, and not because of increased weight gain that typically occurs with the consumption of the Western diet, or due to anything related to the microbiome, defined as “the collection of microbes—bacteria, viruses, and single-cell eukaryotes (cells that contain nuclei)—that inhabits the human body.”

Dr. Napier states, “The mice's immune system on the Western diet looked and functioned differently. 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."

Though not discounting high sugar/low fiber as being a primary culprit, the next phase of Dr. Napier’s research will focus on whether specific fats in the Western diet might be influencing immune cell function.

"If it's the fats in the diet that are doing the reprogramming, then it'll be applicable to any diet that's high-fat like the ketogenic diet or any sort of Atkins-related diet," Napier said.

Regarding the Western diet, Dr. Bill Misner states, “No one can perform at their best consuming a diet that contains too much saturated fat, trans fat, processed simple sugar, sodium (processed salted foods)—a diet that distinctly lacks plant-sourced soluble and insoluble fiber, and phytonutrients. The result from eating a "Western or American" diet fails to advance endurance performance and negatively compromises quality of life.”

As we have advocated since day one, to minimize your potential for severe negative health consequences such as severe sepsis, your primary nutritional goal is to consistently consume a healthy diet. This means:

  • Eating whole grains and locally grown organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible
  • Avoiding packaged, processed foods and junk foods at all time
  • Low sodium
  • Consuming a variety of foods, while avoiding foods containing artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives
  • Avoiding added simple sugars (sucrose, fructose, glucose, etc.) in both your daily diet and in your sports fuels

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/what-is-sepsis.html
[2] https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/02/05/1814273116