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Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Nov;58(4):831-7.

Immunonutrition and surgical practice.

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Department of Surgery, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.


Immunonutrition generally refers to the effect of the provision of specific nutrients on the immune system. These nutrients typically have immunoenhancing properties, and recent advances in nutrition support involve studies designed to exploit the desirable biological properties of these nutrients. The term immunonutrition strictly implies that we are focusing on the effect of certain nutrients on aspects of the immune system. However, in reality immunonutrition also refers to studies that not only examine the function of lymphocytes and leucocytes, but which also study the influence of key nutrients on the acute-phase response, the inflammatory response and on gastrointestinal structure and function. The interest, therefore, is on the impact of immunonutrition on all aspects of host defence mechanisms in response to a catabolic stress. Major surgery evokes an acute-phase response, a transient immunosuppression and alterations in gastrointestinal function. Normal function is usually restored after a few days; however, in a subgroup of patients homeostasis may be lost and development of the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) ensues. Results of recent clinical trials suggest that provision of immunomodulatory nutrients, including glutamine, arginine, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and dietary nucleotides, may promote restoration of normal tissue function post-operatively and prevent the occurrence of SIRS.

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