Modulation of intestinal immune system by dietary fat intake: relevance to Crohn's disease

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998 Dec;13(12):1183-90.


Gut-associated lymphoid tissue is the major inductive site of the mucosal immune system, which is functionally independent of the systemic immune system. Both the amount and type of dietary fat modulate intestinal immune function. Absorption of long-chain fatty acids stimulates lymphocyte flux and lymphocyte blastogenesis in intestinal lymphatics. Long-chain fatty acid absorption also significantly enhances migration of T lymphocytes to Peyer's patches, possibly due to up-regulation of adhesion molecules, such as alpha4-integrin and L-selectin. Lipoproteins are involved in stimulation of lymphocyte function by both receptor-dependent and independent mechanisms. However, unsaturated fatty acids at higher concentrations have a suppressive effect on cell-mediated immunity via eicosanoid release, receptor affinity changes or interactions with intracellular signal transduction. Fat absorption also influences various other cells in the intestinal mucosa: increased cytokine release from intestinal epithelial cells follows long-chain fatty acid absorption. In Crohn's disease, elemental diets and total parenteral nutrition often induce remission, possibly by reducing antigenic load on activated immune cells in the intestine and, thus, down-regulating hyperreactive CD4 cells. Dietary oleic acid supplements caused an immunological reversal effect in the intestinal immune system of animals fed an elemental diet. An excess of long-chain fatty acids in an elemental diet, therefore, may negate its beneficial effect on gut-associated lymphoid tissues in Crohn's disease. In contrast, supplemental dietary fish oil apparently tends to prevent relapse of Crohn's disease. Because dietary fat intake is closely associated with immunological function of the intestinal mucosa, careful manipulation of dietary fat can be important in management of this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Crohn Disease / diet therapy
  • Crohn Disease / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Dietary Fats / immunology*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / therapeutic use
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / immunology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / metabolism
  • Peyer's Patches / immunology
  • Peyer's Patches / metabolism


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Cytokines
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fish Oils