Nutrition & Immunity : Feeding the Immune System through a Balanced Diet

Nutrition & Immunity : Feeding the Immune System through a Balanced Diet

Prashant Nagre, CEO, Fermenta Biotech, 0

With a career spanning 28 years, Prashant has comprehensive experience across various spheres encompassing Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Human and Animal Nutrition domains.

Immunity: The need of the hour
Our immune system is a complex matrix consisting of three major operations: surveillance, response initiation and closure. These mechanisms are influenced by genetic as well as environmental changes. Three major lifestyle factors influence our immune system – Exercise, Sleep and Nutrition.

The Reality of Malnutrition: Where We Stand Today
India has ranked an alarming 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) that reflects undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality, to document both chronic and acute undernutrition. Malnutrition is a major impediment in India’s growth story, with economic costs being as high as $500 per individual. The double burden of malnutrition includes both under-nutrition as well as over-nutrition, and the existence of both these kinds of malnutrition is steadily rising in regions, populations as well as individuals.

Malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency, with micronutrient deficiency and protein-energy malnutrition being at the core of the problem. 50 percent of women of childbearing age suffering from iron-deficient anaemia and more than 50 percent of children being deficient in Vitamin A, leading to night-blindness and decreased immunity.

Micro-Nutrients, Mega-Benefits
From pediatric to geriatric, micronutrients have a positive impact on our immune system across life stages. The bidirectional relationship exists between immunity, infection and micronutrient status, with each factor playing a role in the prevalence of the other.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is known to modulate both innate and adaptive immune functions thereby increasing immunity.

Deficiency of Vitamin D is associated with higher susceptibility to infection and increased autoimmune disorders. The beneficial effects of Vitamin D on the innate immune system is by enhancing the antimicrobial properties of immune cells which could contribute to reduced susceptibility to communicable diseases such as respiratory infections.

Actions of Vitamin D on adaptive immunity are indicative of anti-inflammatory and suppressive mechanisms, which could be beneficial for those with autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.
Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and astaxanthin have been shown to have anti-inflammatory as well as immune-boosting effects.

The antioxidant properties of these molecules support a balanced immune response and protect against DNA damage. Supplementation with Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the risk and severity of common cold symptoms.

Strategies for defeating hidden hunger
Improved nutrition has shown to boost maternal and child health, improve academic performance, support stronger immune systems and reduce the risk of disease. The deadly trifecta of anaemia, stunting and wasting can be defeated through the trinity of dietary diversification, food fortification and supplementation.

Malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency, with micronutrient deficiency and protein-energy malnutrition being at the core of the problem

Dietary diversification: Even as the World Health Organization recommends consuming multiple variants of food types, maintaining minimum dietary diversity is a challenge in today’s faced-paced world with nutritionists chalking out diet plans to ensure dietary diversification.

Food fortification: Food fortification possesses the dual advantage of delivering nutrients in a large scale without modifying the dietary habits of the local population. Fortifying rice, oil, salt, flour and milk has been a useful strategy in many parts of the world and can be leveraged further in India for a wider reach of beneficiaries.

Supplementation: Especially in populations at high risk of deficiency, supplementation of micronutrients has seen to reduce the risk and severity of infections by enhancing the immune function.

The way forward: Innovation through collaboration
According to a Mintel report, “While many people have faith in, or at least hope for, the power of food and drink to support their immune system, this area of health has been largely overlooked by the market.” It is the correct time to address this demand for immune-supporting nutrition.

There is a need to bring in new technologies for value-added formats of micronutrients that will increase their efficiency and decrease the required dosage. This can be done by means of global collaborations with industry-academia teams. Implementation through public-private partnerships will ensure a larger reach of the programmes.

As we approach the target year for the Sustainable Development Goals, nutrition lies at the heart of the SDGs, with every $1 invested in nutrition results in $16 worth of returns.