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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Aug;56 Suppl 3:S73-6.

Nutrition and the immune system from birth to old age.

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  • 1Memorial University of Newfoundland, WHO Centre for Nutritional Immunology, Janeway Child Health Centre, St John's, Canada.


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.

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