Nutrition and the immune system from birth to old age.Eur J Clin Nutr 2002; 56 Suppl 3:S73-6EJ
For millennia, food has been at the center of social events, in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Protein-energy malnutrition is associated with a significant impairment of cell-mediated immunity, phagocyte function, complement system, secretory immunoglobulin A antibody concentrations, and cytokine production. Deficiency of single nutrients also results in altered immune response: this is observed even when the deficiency state is relatively mild. Of the micronutrients, zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E and B(6), and folic acid have important influences on immune responses. Overnutrition and obesity also reduce immunity. Low-birth-weight infants have a prolonged impairment of cell-mediated immunity that can be partly restored by providing extra amounts of dietary zinc. In the elderly, impaired immunity can be enhanced by modest amounts of a combination of micronutrients. These findings have considerable practical and public health significance.