Does diet influence the immune system?


The diet influences our immune system preventing infections and inflammatory processes. Find out everything in this article.

The immune system plays a key role in maintaining health and its functional capacity, which depends largely on the diet. This is because our defence system needs macronutrients and micronutrients for proper functioning. Learn how diet influences the immune system.

How diet influences the immune system

Numerous studies have shown that there is a clear association between nutritional deficiencies and infectious and inflammatory processes. In fact, there is evidence that the state of malnutrition of the mother, either by default or by excess, can affect the immunity of the child. Especially during the first years of life, even with long-term metabolic consequences.

On the contrary, adequate nutrition during childhood and adolescence entails proper functioning of the immune system in adulthood. We understand that carbohydrates, fats and proteins play a fundamental role in the immune response.


Carbohydrates (HC) are important in the immune system since there is a relationship between insulin and these. Which may explain the effect of HC on inflammation.

It has been seen in some studies that the consumption of simple and refined HC reduces phagocyte levels while increasing those of inflammatory cytokines. However, fibre from complex HC (not starches), found in fruits and vegetables, seems to reduce the inflammatory state.


Both the quality and the amount of protein in the diet can modify the immune response. A protein deficiency can alter cell growth and repair and increase the risk of infection due to the alteration of antibody production levels.

The importance of the protein present in the diet is due to its ability to provide amino acids. Since protein deficiencies influence immunocompetent cells by altering their responsiveness. It has been seen that diets low in the amino acids tryptophan and phenylalanine decreased antibody synthesis.


It is noteworthy the important role that fats play on immune function. Each type of fatty acid (AG), the main components of fats, has different functions on the immune system of people.

For example, obesigenic diets – with excess saturated fats – have been linked to changes in the inflammatory response. This leads to increased infections, regardless of the existence of obesity or not.

In contrast, omega 3 AGs decrease the most important inflammatory mediators as well as improve the intestinal microbiota. Similar effects of oleic acid have also been described. With a lower presence of inflammation mediators, there is a decrease in the incidence of inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.

Diet micronutrients and their influence on the immune system

Vitamins and minerals perform multiple functions:

  • Metabolic routes
  • Cell cycle regulation
  • Modulation of cell division and differentiation processes
  • Cellular integrity of tissues, epithelial and immune system

Consuming vitamins E, C, A, B6, B12, folic acid and minerals such as iron, copper, selenium and zinc, cause us to suffer fewer infections due to:

  • Immunomodulatory and immunostimulatory effects
  • Free radical protection

The deficits of any of these minerals or vitamins are related to a deficit of lymphocytes and other important markers for the immune system. However, many of the immunological disorders due to micronutrient deficits improve with supplementation. Although we must also be careful with excess micronutrients, as it can cause adverse effects at the immune level.


“Micronutrients also influence the immune system. But you have to be careful with your excess.

Diet to have a good immune system

Therefore, if you want to have a strong immune system that adequately defends you from infections you should consume:

  • Fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants.
  • Legumes and whole grains to control insulin levels.
  • Animal and vegetable proteins to avoid protein deficiency.
  • Fats from bluefish, nuts and extra virgin olive oil.

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