Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health

Nutritional immunology in health & disease

    Nutritional immunology in health & disease

    The human immune system functions to protect the body against foreign pathogens and thereby preventing infection and disease. Optimal functioning of the immune system, both innate and adaptive immunity, is strongly influenced by an individual’s nutritional status, with malnutrition being the most common cause of immunodeficiency in the world.
    Nutrient deficiencies result in immunosuppression and dysregulation of the immune response including impairment of phagocyte function and cytokine production, as well as adversely affecting aspects of humoral and cell-mediated immunity. Such alterations in immune function and the resulting inflammation are not only associated with infection, but also with the development of chronic diseases including cancer, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, disorders of the endocrine system and cardiovascular disease. The majority of research to date in nutritional immunology has focused on nutrient deficiency albeit recent research has shown that sub-optimal nutritional status can also impair immune function and warrants investigation.
    Researchers in NICHE conduct fundamental research which assess changes in markers of immune function associated with normal physiological and pathological disease processes. The group investigates the complex relationship between specific nutrients and immune function using in vivo and in vitro techniques as well as carrying out human intervention studies using participants from healthy populations, at-risk groups and clinical populations.
    Research conducted by this group has investigated the effects of micronutrients on cancer development and metastasis, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, endocrine disorders and cardiovascular disease. Nutrients currently under investigation by this group include fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, iodine, zinc, iron as well as polyphenols and soy isoflavones.

    Contact: Dr Emeir McSorley em.mcsorley@ulster.ac.uk