Nutrition, immune response, and outcome

Prog Food Nutr Sci. 1986;10(1-2):1-65.


The immune system plays a key role in the body's ability to fight infection and reduce the risk of developing tumors, autoimmune and degenerative disease. Nutritional deficiencies and excesses influence various components of the immune system. Early studies investigating the association between nutrition and immunity focused on generalized protein-energy malnutrition, particularly in children in developing countries. The extent of immunological impairment depends not only on the severity of malnutrition but on the presence of infection and on the age of onset of nutritional deprivation, among other factors. In industrialized nations, immune function has been shown to be compromised in many malnourished hospitalized patients, small-for-gestational age infants, and the elderly. Obesity also may adversely influence immune function. Imbalances of single nutrients are relatively uncommon in humans, and investigations of protein and amino acids and specific vitamins, minerals, and trace elements generally are carried out in experimental animals. Deficiencies of protein and some amino acids, as well as vitamins A, E, B6 and folate, are associated with reduced immunocompetence. In contrast, excessive intake of fat, in particular polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g. linoleic and arachidonic acids), iron, and vitamin E are immunosuppressive. Trace elements modulate immune responses through their critical role in enzyme activity. Both deficiency and excess of trace elements have been recognized. Although dietary requirements of most of these elements are met by a balanced diet, there are certain population groups and specific disease states which are likely to be associated with deficiency of one or more of these essential elements. The role of trace elements in maintenance of immune function and their causal role in secondary immunodeficiency is increasingly being recognized. There is growing research concerning the role of zinc, copper, selenium, and other elements in immunity and the mechanisms that underlie such roles. The problem of interaction of trace elements and immunity is a complex one because of the frequently associated other nutritional deficiencies, the presence of clinical or subclinical infections which in themselves have a significant effect on immunity, and finally the altered metabolism due to the underlying disease. There are many practical applications of our recently acquired knowledge regarding nutritional regulation of immunity.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibody Formation*
  • Avitaminosis / immunology
  • Body Weight
  • Deficiency Diseases / blood
  • Deficiency Diseases / immunology
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infections / immunology
  • Influenza Vaccines / immunology
  • Lipids / physiology
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / immunology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Trace Elements / analysis


  • Dietary Fats
  • Influenza Vaccines
  • Lipids
  • Trace Elements