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Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Aug;66(2):478S-484S.

Nutrition and immunity in the elderly: modification of immune responses with nutritional treatments.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'Immunologie du vieillissement, Faculté de Médecine Pitié-Salpétrière, Paris, France.


Nutrition has a strong influence on the immune system of the elderly. Aging induces dysregulation of the immune system, mainly as a result of changes in cell-mediated immunity. Aging is associated with changes to the equilibrium of peripheral T and B lymphocyte subsets, such as decreases in the ratios of mature to immature, naive to memory, T helper 1 subset (TH1) to TH2, and CD5- to CD5+ cells. As a consequence, cell-mediated immune responses are weaker and neither cell-mediated nor humoral responses are as well adapted to the antigen stimulus. Undernutrition, common in aged populations, also induces lower immune responses, particularly in cell-mediated immunity. Protein-energy malnutrition is associated with decreased lymphocyte proliferation, reduced cytokine release, and lower antibody response to vaccines. Micronutrient deficits, namely of zinc, selenium, and vitamin B-6, all of which are prevalent in aged populations, have the same influence on immune responses. Because aging and malnutrition exert cumulative influences on immune responses, many elderly people have poor cell-mediated immune responses and are therefore at a high risk of infection. Nutritional therapy may improve immune responses of elderly patients with protein-energy malnutrition. Supplementation with high pharmacologic doses of a single nutrient (zinc or vitamin E) may be useful for improving immune responses of self-sufficient elderly people living at home. Therefore, nutritional deficiency must be treated in the elderly to reduce infectious risk and possibly slow the aging process.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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