Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course

Nutrients. 2018 Oct 17;10(10):1531. doi: 10.3390/nu10101531.


As humans age, the risk and severity of infections vary in line with immune competence according to how the immune system develops, matures, and declines. Several factors influence the immune system and its competence, including nutrition. A bidirectional relationship among nutrition, infection and immunity exists: changes in one component affect the others. For example, distinct immune features present during each life stage may affect the type, prevalence, and severity of infections, while poor nutrition can compromise immune function and increase infection risk. Various micronutrients are essential for immunocompetence, particularly vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc. Micronutrient deficiencies are a recognized global public health issue, and poor nutritional status predisposes to certain infections. Immune function may be improved by restoring deficient micronutrients to recommended levels, thereby increasing resistance to infection and supporting faster recovery when infected. Diet alone may be insufficient and tailored micronutrient supplementation based on specific age-related needs necessary. This review looks at immune considerations specific to each life stage, the consequent risk of infection, micronutrient requirements and deficiencies exhibited over the life course, and the available evidence regarding the effects of micronutrient supplementation on immune function and infection.

Keywords: adults; age-related immunity; deficiency; elderly; immunosenescence; infants; infection; micronutrients; older people.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Immunity / physiology*
  • Infections* / etiology
  • Micronutrients* / metabolism
  • Micronutrients* / pharmacology
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Trace Elements / metabolism
  • Trace Elements / pharmacology
  • Vitamins / metabolism
  • Vitamins / pharmacology


  • Micronutrients
  • Trace Elements
  • Vitamins