When we eat, our immune systems fight the bacteria that are attached to our food. But for people who are overweight, this defensive response can become uncontrolled and eventually lead to type 2 diabetes, according to new findings published in the journal Nature Immunology, ScienceDaily reports.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the body stops producing enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. When we eat, this hormone distributes the glucose in food to the cells of the body for energy.

For this latest animal study, researchers at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland checked the incidence of macrophages (immune cells also known as “scavenger cells”), which gather in the intestines during meals. Scientists found that in healthy individuals, short-term inflammatory responses caused by these macrophages produced messenger substances called interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) that stimulate the production of insulin in the pancreas. The insulin then causes the scavenger cells to increase IL-1beta. The insulin and the IL-1beta work together to control blood sugar levels, while IL-1beta ensures that the immune system is supplied with glucose and the immune system is activated against bacterial invaders.

Researchers noted that in individuals who did not ingest adequate nutrients during their meals, IL-1beta messengers were unable to team with insulin to regulate blood sugar levels or supply the immune system with glucose to keep it active. As a result, this mechanism of metabolism was unable to adequately combat bad bacteria in the body, which ultimately increased the risk of infection.

Scientists concluded that this is why overweight people, who often don’t get enough nutrition in their meals, as well as those who are undernourished, face persistent bouts of inflammation that interfere with the proper function of insulin and sparks diabetes.

Did you know that certain foods can also trigger chronic inflammation? Click here to learn more.