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December 19, 1980

Closing in on the nutrition-immunity link

JAMA. 1980;244(24):2715. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310240009003

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The relation between nutrition and immune function is intriguing but far from clear, according to research reports presented at the Western Hemisphere Nutrition Congress VI in Los Angeles.

At Indiana University School of Medicine, Indian-apolis, Karyl A. Rickard, PhD, RD, and colleagues have been studying hyperalimentation's effects on immunity and tumor growth. Among 28 children with advanced cancer (21 with solid tumors and seven with relapsed leukemia or lymphoma), those given total parenteral nutrition for four weeks had reversal of protein malnutrition, restoration of serum albumin and transferrin concentrations and, usually, a reversal of diminished reactivity to skin test antigens.

Rickard cautioned, however, that it is still not possible to say whether prevention or reversal of malnutrition brings about better response to cancer therapy. For one thing, he said, factors other than nutrition may undermine cell-mediated immunity; as examples he cited terminal stage disease, steroid or radiation therapy, or even