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Am J Physiol. 1997 Aug;273(2 Pt 2):R548-53.

Systemic immune changes following meal intake in humans.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of L├╝beck, Germany.


Food intake represents a high intestinal antigen exposition requiring host defense. Besides local immune activation, this defense includes a coordinate systemic immune response, which may serve to support local immunity. This study examined influences of a standardized high-protein meal on peripheral blood mononuclear cell counts; on the in vitro mitogen-stimulated production of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and interferon-gamma; on the in vivo plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6; and on plasma concentrations of cortisol and growth hormone. Ten healthy men (18-35 yr) participated in two experimental sessions in a balanced order. On one occasion, subjects fasted; on the other, they received a high-protein meal at 1230. Blood was sampled every 15 min. Whereas the numbers of neutrophils and platelets were increased for more than 2.5 h after meal intake (P < 0.01) lymphocyte counts decreased (P < 0.01). Meal intake also decreased the production of interferon-gamma but did not affect the production and plasma levels of the other cytokines. Changes in immune cell distribution and function were accompanied by a strong postprandial rise in plasma cortisol concentrations. Some of the systemic immune changes, like the emigration of lymphocytes, probably into extravascular abdominal tissues, may serve to support local immune defense.

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