Introduction

In Western countries, an adult eats, on average, 75-150 g of fat each day and fat contributes 30-45% of dietary energy. By far the most important component of dietary fat in quantitative terms is triacylglycerol, which, in most diets, constitutes > 95% of dietary fat. Each triacylglycerol molecule is composed of three fatty acids esterified to a glycerol backbone. Thus, fatty acids are major constituents of dietary fat. In recent years, it has become clear that fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids (PUFAs), are important regulators of numerous cellular functions, including those related to inflammation and immunity. Interest in the effects of fatty acids upon inflammation and immunity has intensified during the past two decades. The influence of various fatty acids on the functional responses of cells of the immune system has been examined in numerous in vitro studies and in animal feeding models and human intervention studies. The effects of linoleic acid and the n-3 PUFAs found in fish oil have been most extensively investigated. There is now convincing evidence that the type of fat in the diet has a major impact on inflammation and other aspects of immune function, and this has formed the basis for interventions with fish oil in diseases characterized by immune dysfunction. This chapter will describe the nature of the fatty acids available in the human diet, the influence of different types of fatty acids on inflammation and immune function, the mechanisms by which fatty acids might exert their effects and the potential applications of those effects. However, it is not possible in this chapter to review the breadth of information available. The reader is referred to recent detailed reviews of the many aspects of fatty acids, inflammation and immunity in health and disease (Kinsella et al., 1990; Kelley and Daudu, 1993; Blok et al., 1996; Calder, 1996, 1997, 1998a, b, c, 2001a, b, c; Alexander, 1998; Fernandes et al., 1998; Grimble, 1998; Harbige, 1998; Hughes, 1998; Miles and Calder, 1998; Sperling, 1998; Wu and Meydani, 1998; Yaqoob, 1998a, b; de Pablo and Alvarezda Cienfuegos, 2000; James et al., 2000; Field et al., 2001; Calder et al., 2002).

© CAB International 2002. Nutrition and Immune Function (eds P.C. Calder, C.J. Field and H.S. Gill)

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