Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Changes in the immune system are conditioned by nutrition


Undernutrition due to insufficient intake of energy and macronutrients and/or due to deficiencies in specific micronutrients impairs the immune system, suppressing immune functions that are fundamental to host protection. The most consistent abnormalities are seen in cell-mediated immunity, complement system, phagocyte function, cytokine production, mucosal secretory antibody response, and antibody affinity. There is a number of physiological situations such as ageing and performance of intense physical exercise associated with an impairment of some immune parameters' response. Nutrition can influence the extent of immune alteration in both of them. There are also numerous pathological situations in which nutrition plays a role as a primary or secondary determinant of some underlying immunological impairments. This includes obesity, eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa), food hypersensitivity and gastrointestinal disorders as some examples. The implications of nutrition on immune function in these disorders are briefly reviewed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  • Calder PC & Kew S (2002). The immune system: a target for functional foods?. Br. J. Nutr. 88, S165–S177.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chandra RK (1992): Protein-energy malnutrition and immunological responses. J. Nutr. 122(3 Suppl), 597–600.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chandra RK (2000): Food allergy and nutrition in early life. Implications for later health. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 59, 1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chandra RK (2002): Nutrition and the immune system from birth to old age. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 56, S73–S76.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chandra RK & Newberne PM (1977): Nutrition, Immunity and Infection. Mechanism of Interactions. New York: Plenum.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Chandra RK & Kumari S (1994): Effects of nutrition on the immune system. Nutrition 10, 207–210.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • De Pablo MA & Alvarez de Cienfuegos G (2000): Modulatory effects of dietary lipids on immune system functions. Immunol. Cell. Biol. 78, 31–39.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Grimble RF (1997): Effect of antioxidative vitamins on immune function with clinical applications. Int. J. Vit. Nutr. Res. 67, 312–320.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kimura M, Tanaka S, Isoda F, Sekigawa K, Yamakawa T & Sekihara H (1998): T lymphopenia in obese diabetic (db/db) mice is non-selective and thymus independent. Life Sci. 62, 1243–1250.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lamas O, Marti A & Martinez JA (2002): Obesity and immunocompetence. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 56, S42–S45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lesourd B & Mazari L (1999): Nutrition and immunity in the elderly. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 58, 685–695.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lopez-Varela S, Montero A, Chandra RK & Marcos A (2000): Nutritional status of young female elite gymnasts. Int. J. Vitamin Nutr. Res. 70, 185–190.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Marcos A, Varela P, Santacruz I, Muñoz-Velez A & Morande G (1993): Nutritional status and immunocompetence in eating disorders. A comparative study. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 47, 787–793.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Marcos A (2000): Eating disorders: a situation of malnutrition with peculiar changes in the immune system. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 54, S61–S64.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nova E, Gómez-Martínez S, Morandé G & Marcos A (2002): Cytokine production by blood mononuclear cells from in-patients with anorexia nervosa. Br. J. Nutr. 88, 183–188.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nova E, Montero A, López-Varela S & Marcos A . (2001): Are elite gymnasts really malnourished? Evaluation of diet, anthropometry and immunocompetence. Nutr. Res. 21, 15–19.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Savino W (2002): The thymus gland is a target in malnutrition. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 56, S46–S49.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Schiffrin EJ & Blum S (2002): Interactions between the microbiota and the intestinal mucosa. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 56, S60–S64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tanaka S, Isoda F, Yamakawa T, Ishihara M & Sekihara H (1998): T lymphopenia in genetically obese rats. Clin. Immunol. Immunopathol. 96, 219–225.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Varela P, Marcos A, Muñoz-Vélez A, Santacruz I & Requejo A (1988): Delayed hypersensitivity skin test in anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Med. Sci. Res. 16, 1135.

    Google Scholar 

  • Victor VM & De la Fuente M (2002): N-acetylcysteine improves in vitro the function of macrophages from mice with endotoxin-induced oxidative stress. Free Rad. Res. 36, 33–45.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Guarantor: A Marcos.

Contributors: A Marcos has been coordinator and supervisor of research projects on eating disorders and elite athletes, whose results are summarized in the manuscript. She has reviewed the manuscript and elaborated its final version. E Nova has written the text of the manuscript in collaboration with A Montero, and both have participated in research projects included in the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A Marcos.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Marcos, A., Nova, E. & Montero, A. Changes in the immune system are conditioned by nutrition. Eur J Clin Nutr 57 (Suppl 1), S66–S69 (2003).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • malnutrition
  • immunity
  • physiological situations
  • eating disorders

This article is cited by


Quick links