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Eating Less May Hinder Immune System

Study with deer mice found reducing food intake 30% decreased infection-fighting cells

THURSDAY, April 3 (HealthDay News) -- You may no longer need to remember whether it's "starve a cold, feed a fever" or vice versa. New research suggests you should just eat.

A study of deer mice has found that reducing the amount of food the mice ate impaired their immune system. The findings are published in the May/June issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

The researchers found that decreasing the amount of food the mice ate by 30 percent significantly decreased the number of B cells in their systems. B cells produce antibodies and maintain immune memory, so an immune system lacking B cells must relearn how to fight infection and disease.

"A 30 percent restriction in food intake doesn't affect body mass and only minimally reduces activity in deer mice, but it eliminates the long-term immune protection provided by antibodies," study co-author Lynn Martin said in a prepared statement. "One wonders whether similar moderate food restriction has comparable immune effects in humans."

Martin and fellow researchers cited previous studies that had found that infections were "more frequent and tend to be chronic in malnourished children." Previous studies have also found that vaccines that provoke B cells to protect the body long-term, such as the vaccine for measles, are less effective among the malnourished.

The authors proposed that future research should be done to learn what specific features of diet (calories, protein, micronutrients) affect immune system function.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more on how vaccines work.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Chicago Press Journals, news release, April 1, 2008

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