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Immunonutrition immune system
Immunonutrition is the science that is responsible for studying the relationship between nutrients and our body's immunity, with everything that this means. The objectives of immunonutrition are, among others, to know and study the immunological markers associated with nutritional status, to understand how different compounds present in food influence the immune response that the body develops against viruses, bacteria, allergens, toxins, malignant cells. , etc. And, in general terms, study the factors linked to nutrition that influence the immune system.

Let's talk about immunity

The immune system is a complex system that works together with other systems, performing many different functions, always with the aim of protecting our body against possible attacks. In this sense, we can talk about physical, chemical and biological barriers that the body places against contact with the “outside world” and that act as a wall and filter to limit the entry of external and potentially harmful substances for us. These barriers are the skin, the mucous membranes (mucosa of the digestive system, stomach, intestine..., mucosa of the respiratory system, nasal mucosa, bronchial..., mucosa of the reproductive system) and also their secretions (stomach secretion, sweat, mucus...), as well as the native bacterial flora of each of these areas.

When pathogens or foreign substances manage to cross these first obstacles offered by the immune system and reach the interior of our body, other mechanisms of the immune system must act, which can be of two types:

  • Innate or nonspecific immune responses.
  • Specific, acquired or adaptive immune responses. They are those that the body develops when it comes into contact with certain substances or microorganisms as a defense mechanism.

In both cases, leukocytes, antibodies, cytokines, etc. come into action. The cells of the immune system originate in the bone marrow and the lymphatic system and are distributed through the bloodstream to reach the areas where their action is necessary.

For the immune system to function properly, it is essential that the nutritional intake is correct. A deficient nutritional state is considered a cause of decreased immunity, since, for example, the first defensive barriers such as the skin and mucous membranes can be affected in malnourished patients, reducing their functionality and effectiveness.

Immunostimulating nutrients

They are substances that are usually used in clinical settings to supplement the diet of patients subjected to a high degree of physical stress due to the disease(s) they suffer from and/or the treatment to which they are subjected. Are these:


  • Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid very present in our body. It plays a protective and even restorative role in the digestive tract, as it helps moderate the atrophy of the intestinal mucosa that occurs due to certain health problems and treatments (chemotherapy or radiotherapy) or the administration of parenteral nutrition.
  • While under normal conditions it is a non-essential nutrient, in the process of a critical illness it has been possible to observe how serum glutamine values ​​decrease and it temporarily becomes an essential nutrient, that is, we must incorporate it into our diet to cover the needs of the organism, since endogenous synthesis, or what is the same, the manufacture of this substance by our body, is not enough.
  • Glutamine supplementation in doses equal to or greater than 0.2 g/kg weight/day has been shown to have positive effects on the intestinal mucosa in patients with parenteral nutrition, significantly reducing morbidity and length of hospital stay in bone marrow transplant patients and other patients undergoing different types of surgery, and prevents bacteremia and mortality in burned patients.

Omega-3 fatty acids

  • The fatty acids we eat in our diet, in addition to representing a source of Nutrition and health - Immunonutritionenergy, are part of cell membranes and regulate the synthesis of eicosanoids (molecules that act as mediators of the central nervous system and the immune response).
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, which limits the pro-inflammatory effect of omega 6 (which is why there must be a balance between both essential fatty acids) and their use in nutrition formulas has shown positive effects at different levels, including, a better immune response.


  • In stress processes, nitric oxide production increases, and arginine limits its activity. In addition, among other functions, it stimulates the secretion of hormones such as insulin, prolactin and glucagon and improves cellular immune function and wound healing.
  • When we are subjected to stressful situations, arginine synthesis is insufficient and therefore its supplementation is valued. It should be taken into account that in the West around 5.4% of protein ingested in the diet is arginine.
  • Supplementation has been evaluated with contributions of up to 30 g per day, causing mild side effects such as diarrhea, although in some types of patients it can have more negative effects, such as increasing the inflammatory response. Therefore, more studies are necessary to determine its effectiveness.


  • Nucleotides have functions at the immunological level, and it seems clear that an adequate supply through the diet is necessary to maintain correct immune function. In any case, it has not been proven that supplementing the diet is beneficial.

Vitamins and minerals

  • Benefits have been found at the immune level in the administration of vitamins A, C, E, iron, zinc and selenium, in very variable doses, between five and twenty-five times the daily requirements of each of these nutrients, in surgical patients and those affected by trauma and sepsis. Important benefits have also been seen in critically ill patients, but it has not been possible to establish the appropriate dosage of this type of elements, which is why more studies are required on the effect of these nutrients.


  • It has been observed that the amount and nature of the proteins ingested in the diet influence the immune response.


  • On many occasions, the use of these formulas has managed to shorten the length of hospital stay, reduce the incidence of infections and thereby increase the speed of recovery. In any case, as already mentioned, positive effects have not always been achieved and further study is necessary on the intervention with each of these elements and specifically for each type of situation.

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