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Nutrition and immunity


The effects of nutrition on immunity function, and the consequences of these effects for the development of several diseases, have been the focus of a growing number of clinical and experimental studies. Field studies in developing countries have consistently linked severe malnutrition with immunologic crippling and increased susceptibility to infection. However, studies of moderately protein-deprived individuals showed that although their B-cell immunity function was debilitated by dietary restriction, certain aspects of their T-cell immunity function were apparently enhanced. Subsequent extensive laboratory investigations have confirmed that dietary restriction has differential effects on the B-cell and T-cell immunity systems, associated with a highly specific influence of nutritional factors on the thymus. In addition to protein, fat, and total calories, the single element zinc in the diet has a profound effect on immunity function, at least in part through its direct relationship with the thymus. Clinical studies have linked low serum levels of zinc, caused by malabsorption or unavailability, with both immunodeficiency disease and certain forms of cancer. As well as nutritional deficiency, malnutrition associated with excessive food intake has proved to be related to early disorganization of immunity function, especially of thymus-derived immunity, in several strains of short-lived autoimmune-prone mice. Dietary restriction inhibits development of disease and prolongs life in these strains, which reflect virtually all of the major human diseases of aging. We are hopeful that the therapeutic possibilities of a scientifically modified diet may eventually be realized and added to our clinical resources in combating immunodeficiencies, cancer, arteriosclerosis and other vascular diseases, renal disease, artherosclerosis, amyloidosis, vasculitis, and autoimmunities such as arthritis.

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Good, R.A. Nutrition and immunity. J Clin Immunol 1, 3–11 (1981).

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Key words

  • Nutrition
  • diet
  • immunodeficiency
  • aging
  • thymus
  • zinc