The editors of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) journals have curated a themed collection of articles exploring the latest research and findings on the links between nutrition and immune system function. With the COVID-19 pandemic devastating communities around the world, these articles underscore the role nutrition researchers and practitioners can play in helping people optimize and maintain healthy immune function, both to avoid infection and to support recovery from infection.
This themed collection includes 23 published studies that explore the many tools and approaches nutrition scientists use to understand how nutrition affects immune function. Below are highlights from four studies included in the collection, one from each ASN journal. Some other studies from this collection were highlighted in a previous blog examining nutrition and viral infection.
Vitamin D and Influenza, Advances in Nutrition, July 2012
Evidence from both animal model studies and in vivo human studies indicate that there is a link between vitamin D status and the risk of influenza infection; however, the findings have not always been consistent. In particular, observational human studies as well as randomized controlled trials have yielded mixed results. Some studies, for example, have suggested that the reason influenza is more prevalent in the winter is the result of less sunlight and therefore less available vitamin D; however, not all studies have reached the same conclusion.
The establishment of a clear link between vitamin D status and influenza infection has broad implications for influenza research.
According to authors Maria E. Sundaram et al., “much work remains to be done” in order to understand the relationship between vitamin D and influenza, including more rigorous research studies with large populations. “The establishment of a clear link between vitamin D status and influenza infection has broad implications for influenza research, especially in groups that are likely to have low vitamin D levels, as well as the formulation of policy regarding vitamin D supplementation.”
Infants fed formula supplemented with 2′-fucosyllactose exhibit lower plasma and ex vivo inflammatory cytokine profiles.
Similar to Those Who Are Breastfed, Infants Fed a Formula Containing 2′-Fucosyllactose Have Lower Inflammatory Cytokines in a Randomized Controlled Trial, The Journal of Nutrition, December 2016
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, when possible. Among its benefits, breastfeeding bolsters infants’ immune system, lowering their risk of infection. Not all infants, however, can be breastfed.
In this study, Karen C. Goehring et al. investigated the effects of feeding infants formula supplemented with the human milk oligosaccharide 2′-fucosyllactose, which is not typically contained in formula, on biomarkers of immune function in healthy term infants. According to the authors’ findings, “infants fed formula supplemented with 2′-fucosyllactose exhibit lower plasma and ex vivo inflammatory cytokine profiles, similar to those of a breastfed reference group.” These findings suggest that formula supplemented with 2′-fucosyllactose may help infants improve their immune system development and regulation.
Effect of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption on Immune Function in Older People: A Randomized Controlled Trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2012
Andrew Gibson et al. conducted a 16-week trial among older adults with consistently low fruit and vegetable intake to determine whether increased fruit and vegetable intake would improve measures of immune function. Study participants were divided into two groups: one continued their habitual diet and the other increased their daily fruit and vegetable intake to five or more portions per day.
This finding links an achievable dietary goal with potentially enhanced protective immunity.
The authors found that increased fruit and vegetable intake improved the Pneumovax II vaccination antibody response in older people, an indicator of enhanced immune function. “This finding links an achievable dietary goal with potentially enhanced protective immunity.” It may help to investigate whether increased fruit and vegetable intake might protect older adults from COVID-19 infection as well as help them recover from COVID-19 infection.
Dietary Protein and Changes in Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, Current Developments in Nutrition, May 2019
Working with data collected over a seven-year period from 2,061 participants in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort, Adela Hruby et al. assessed the associations between dietary protein and changes in biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress. The authors found that “higher protein intake was associated with favorable changes in overall inflammation/oxidative stress levels.” Moreover, the authors observed that these associations were stronger for plant proteins as opposed to animal protein, “suggesting that higher protein intake, particularly from plant-based foods, is associated with lower risk of ‘inflammaging,’” the chronic low-grade inflammation that tends to develop with advanced age.
ASN is committed to publishing nutrition research to support the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Please consider submitting your COVID-19 research findings to an ASN journal so that it can be disseminated quickly around the world to help manage and eventually bring an end to this deadly pandemic. Click here to learn more.