Certain nutrients are beneficial when taken in doses above the accepted daily doses. They can reduce inflammation, improve immune functioning, and improve the barrier at the inner lining of the intestine. People who have surgery, cancer, and severe burns as well as immunosuppressed patients can benefit by immune nutrients.
Included in this paper are glutamine, arginine, omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA,) docosahexanoic acid (DHA,) vitamin A, zinc, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Glutamine is the most common of the amino acids and plays a role in acid-base balance by providing the raw material for the formation of ammonium by the kidney. Following surgery, glutamine is rapidly depleted from the muscle stores. (Glutamate and glutamine are interchangeable.) Glutamine is important in protecting the integrity of the intestine and preventing “leaky gut” in which chemicals pass through the intestine that should not in a healthy person. Glutamine is used at a high rate by lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages, all types of white blood cells. Low levels of glutamine in some animals reduce the immunity. Glutamine has been shown to reduce postoperative infections.
Arginine is necessary for the production of nitric oxide (NO), which regulates inflammation, immunity and blood vessel tone. It also improves immunity in trauma and cancer chemotherapy. Arginine does not work so well in patients who are seriously ill with such things as generalized infections or sepsis. This may be because arginine has a pro-inflammatory component which could be detrimental in inflammatory states.
The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) of alpha linolenic acid are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). These fats are easily oxidized and result in an increased need for selenium, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Fish oils benefit ulcerative colitis, psorriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3 PUFA’s reduce tumor growth, tumor incidence, metastases, and increase natural killer cell activity. Further testing is needed to determine the proper dose and, like arginine, PUFA’s should be used with caution in people who have inflammatory conditions.
Zinc is necessary for many enzymes to function normally and improves immune function. Zinc deficiency results in an increased risk of infections.
Iron deficiency is often found in combination with zinc deficiency. The similar signs are poor growth and development, problems with immunity, and poor development neurologically.
Probiotics are living bacteria that are beneficial when taken as a supplement. The most common probiotics at this time are classed as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. At least 500 species of bacteria live in balance in the intestine and some bacteria produce antibiotic chemicals and some process nutrients. Further studies need to be done about the ability of probiotics to reduce cancer risk.
Prebiotics are compounds found in food that are not digestible by humans, but promote the growth of probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are found in artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic and chicory, and are classed as fructans and include inulin and fructose oligosaccharides. Prebiotics can increase the Bifidobacterium count ten-fold.
Vitamin A occurs in the forms of retinoic acid, retinol, and retinal. They all function in immunity, vision, and the integrity of the intestinal lining.
CONCLUSION: All of the above nutrients have been shown to be of benefit in stressful physical conditions such as after operations and during cancer treatment. Further studies are needed.