Supporting the immune system through nutrition

Nutrition is a key factor contributing to immune fitness

Early life presents a unique window of opportunity to influence the development of the immune system, including training it to elicit the appropriate immune response to external stimuli. Nutrition is one of the most important environmental factors that can positively influence gut microbiota composition and therefore the development of a healthy immune system, which in turn improves immune fitness and optimises future health.[1] 

It leads to immediate benefits in terms of supporting the healthy growth and development of an individual but also over the long term by preventing and managing disease. In fact, studies show that for instance allergies may be prevented by making the right nutritional choices during the first 1000 days of life.

The immune system is not fully developed at birth, but matures over the first few years of life.

Human milk is the best source of nutrition for infants during the first six months of life, containing all the nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development,[2] . Human milk contains numerous factors (e.g. immune cells, maternal antibodies, prebiotics, nucleotides) that work synergistically to optimise the immune system and protect the infant from infections and contribute to the prevention of allergic diseases.,[3][4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9] These factors also help reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases in later life such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and type-II diabetes[10] For mothers who are unable to breastfeed, infant formula is a reliable alternative.

Nutritional support for the immune system in later life & during disease

Nutrition also has a therapeutic potential to manage challenges to the immune system and ameliorate certain conditions such as chronic inflammation. The potential to modulate the immune system through specific nutritional interventions is called immunonutrition, which refers to the use of an altered supply of nutrients to modify inflammatory or immune responses.

At Danone Nutricia Research, we study the effect of nutrition on immune health for people with altered nutritional needs and/or age-related changes. Specifically for disorders in the area of Tube Nutrition, Oncology, Frailty and/or Dysphagia.

Pre-, pro-, syn- & postbiotics can have a positive impact on the gut microbiota and immune system

Increasing evidence suggests that nutritional ingredients such as specific pre-, pro-, syn- and postbiotics can positively influence the immune system directly,[11], and indirectly via modulation of the gut microbiota[11],[12],[13],[14],[15], creating the optimal conditions for the immune system to function.[16],[17],,[18][19]

Prebiotics already have been shown in multiple clinical studies to have a positive impact on the gut microbiota composition,[13],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25] and the immune system.[26],[27],[28],[29] As an example, in high-risk infants, a six-month intervention with partial hydrolysed protein (pHP) and prebiotics reduced levels  of the immune marker Cow’s Milk-specific IgG1.,[30]  Additionally, our MF6 multi-fibre blend with prebiotics has shown to have a positive influence on both gut and immune health. The MF6 blend contains 2 prebiotics FOS and inulin both known to positively stimulate the immune system directly and indirectly via modulation of the gut microbiota. Studies with the MF6 blend showed that MF6 can improve gut equilibrium by having a bifidogenic effect, increasing SCFA production, reducing feacal pH and decreases diarrhoea in patients receiving tube nutrition with the MF6 blend.

Synbiotics, a combination of pre- and probiotics, also have been shown in multiple clinical studies to have a positive impact on the gut microbiota composition and the immune system [31][32] As an example, in infants born by C-section a 12-week intervention with specific synbiotics (prebiotics + Bifidobacterium breve M-16V) was able to restore the delayed bifidobacteria colonisation[33]

Postbiotics are bioactive compounds produced by food-grade micro-organisms during a fermentation process. There is increasing interest in postbiotics because of their wide-ranging potential benefits for human health. It is anticipated that the effects of postbiotics can be both local as well as systemic, affecting different organs and systems. For example, different postbiotic compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory properties[34


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