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Br J Nutr. 2005 Sep;94(3):452-81.

Markers to measure immunomodulation in human nutrition intervention studies.

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  • 1Unilever Health Institute, PO Box 114, NL 3130 AC Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.


Normal functioning of the immune system is crucial to the health of man, and diet is one of the major exogenous factors modulating individual immunocompetence. Recently, nutrition research has focused on the role of foods or specific food components in enhancing immune system responsiveness to challenges and thereby improving health and reducing disease risks. Assessing diet-induced changes of immune function, however, requires a thorough methodological approach targeting a large spectrum of immune system parameters. Currently, no single marker is available to predict the outcome of a dietary intervention on the resistance to infection or to other immune system-related diseases. The present review summarises the immune function assays commonly used as markers in human intervention studies and evaluates their biological relevance (e.g. known correlation with clinically relevant endpoints), sensitivity (e.g. within- and between-subject variation), and practical feasibility. Based on these criteria markers were classified into three categories with high, medium or low suitability. Vaccine-specific serum antibody production, delayed-type hypersensitivity response, vaccine-specific or total secretory IgA in saliva and the response to attenuated pathogens, were classified as markers with high suitability. Markers with medium suitability include natural killer cell cytotoxicity, oxidative burst of phagocytes, lymphocyte proliferation and the cytokine pattern produced by activated immune cells. Since no single marker allows conclusions to be drawn about the modulation of the whole immune system, except for the clinical outcome of infection itself, combining markers with high and medium suitability is currently the best approach to measure immunomodulation in human nutrition intervention studies. It would be valuable to include several immune markers in addition to clinical outcome in future clinical trials in this area, as there is too little evidence that correlates markers with global health improvement.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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