What Constitutes Immunonutrition
What is immunonutrition? You might be able to figure out its meaning based on the root words used to form it (immunity+nutrition), but you likely don’t have a clear grasp of what it’s really all about.
Technically, immunonutrition means enteral or parenteral feeding with various phytonutrients to enhance immune responses and modulate inflammatory activities. These phytonutrients include beta-glucans, glutamine, omega 3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA and docosahexaenoic acid, DHA), omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid, arginine, antioxidants, nucleotides, selenium, copper, zinc, and vitamins B, C, and E. All these are expected to improve immune function thereby modulating the metabolic response to surgery or stress.
There have been a number of special products for enteral consumption developed with nutrients known to play a role in enhancing or modulating the immune response. Many of these products were specifically formulated to be used by those who are undergoing gastrointestinal surgery. Their key ingredients widely vary, particularly when it comes to nutrient content and the concentration of each specific ingredient. Unfortunately, full-blown clinical studies on these products are yet to be conducted. As such, data available at present are not conclusive as to whether or not these products truly provide the benefits they are believed to be capable of providing. There are some studies, though, that suggest benefit; notably the Agaricus blazei Mushroom.
Understanding the Risks Involved
It’s also worth pointing out that immunonutrition is associated with some toxicity risks. The zinc component, for example, can lead to progressive cholestasis and immunosuppression if more than 50mg/day is consumed. With copper, there’s the risk of hemolytic anemia and liver damage. Even vitamin E overdose can lead to chronic indigestion. Moreover, all of the trace elements and vitamins added to immunonutrition products have their respective dose-response curves, which mean those who take such products, will eventually have no response to the products and may require dose adjustments.
Do your Research
That’s why it’s very important to ascertain that the products being used are of high quality and have been tested for safety. They should have undergone meticulous testing for fitness for human consumption. Immunonutrition has its promises of benefits, but it can lead to health problems with the use of the wrong products and wrong dosage or amount of intake.