Polish scientists have developed the POLA index – thanks to which it is possible to assess whether a person’s diet provides the right amount of components necessary for the optimal functioning of the immune system.
In simple terms, it can be assumed that individual nutrients interact with cells of our immune system, as well as intestinal microbiota, modulating the body’s immune response and affecting, for example, resistance to various types of infections, including COVID-19.
team of dr. n. About health Paweł Jagielski from the Department of Nutrition and Pharmaceutical Research at the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków has developed an indicator that allows you to assess the immunomodulatory potential of the diet and identify people whose diet is characterized by many deficiencies of nutrients essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Based on the results of the POLA index, dietitians and physicians will be able to suggest changes in eating behavior to patients in order to improve immunity and reduce infection risk.
“Our index is a proposal directed, among other things, by dietitians whose patients or clients want to know if they meet nutritional criteria for ingredients related to optimal functioning of the immune system — says Dr. Jagielski, lead author of the study published in Elements, in an interview with PAP. Diet” (https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14204227). They can then suggest some changes in the amount and quality of food they eat with relative ease to benefit patients’ immune systems. Another idea is to use the POLA index in scientific research dedicated to the relationship between diet and and the risk of infection with selected disease entities, for example respiratory infections.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired scientists. The dynamic increase in the frequency of infections with SARS-CoV-2 has initiated a global search for protective strategies against the new pathogen. team of dr. Jagielski also addressed this topic: From July 2020 to January 2021, he conducted a research project aimed at assessing the nutritional behavior, physical activity, body composition, and gut microbes of vegetarians and traditional eaters. In 2021, the study was extended to include the effect of the above factors on the risk of contracting COVID-19. The study (https://naukawpolsce.pl/aktualnosci/news%2C91564%2Cpolscy-naukowcy-dowiedli-ze-prawa-dieta-zmniej-szanse-zachorowania) concluded that a properly balanced diet can be an effective way to reduce These risks are in healthy, physically active, non-obese young men.
The project continued trying to develop an indicator on the basis of which nutrients, and therefore food products, can be determined, which are of particular importance in supporting the functioning of the immune system, and which are the opposite.
During the work, the researchers used the existing literature and previously obtained results.
Numerous studies have shown that many modifiable and non-modifiable factors influence the functioning of the immune system. Researchers from Krakow show that non-modifiable factors that cannot be changed or controlled include genetic characteristics, age, and physiological status. At the other extreme are modifiable factors that can be altered to varying degrees, these include for example eating behaviour, physical activity, body weight, sleep duration and stress.
“It has been known for some time that dietary components have an immunomodulatory effect. In addition, various nutritional deficiencies (quantitative and qualitative) can lead to changes in body weight, increased oxidative stress, inflammation and intestinal dysbiosis (disorder of the intestinal flora – PAP). All of these factors may translate into an increased susceptibility of the body to viral infections and a more severe clinical course of some diseases,” they add.
In the end, the POLA is based on 15 food items and the amount of vegetables, fruits, and nuts consumed. “It is calculated on the basis of 5 food diaries, – explains Dr. Jagielski. – Depending on the sum of the points obtained, the person is classified into one of three groups: BIM (nutrition that ensures optimal functioning of the immune system), or UBIM (nutrition that shows elements of unfavorable immune modulation) or HUBIM (diet significantly weakens the immune system).
When it comes to the nutritional components that POLA takes into account, they include: fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, and D), water-soluble vitamins (C and B), select minerals (such as zinc, iron, and magnesium) and omega-3 precursors. and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic and α-linolenic acid) and fiber. “There is more and more scientific evidence that improving the diet in terms of immunomodulating components can help prevent or alleviate some diseases, including viral respiratory infections,” Dr. Lees confirms with food supplements.
The scientist also states that although the concept of immune modulation is well known, there is a lack of tools that would help evaluate the effect of diet on the functioning of the immune system. The only comparable indicator currently available is the DII (Dietary Inflammation Index), which measures the inflammatory potential of the diet.
However, the DII mainly evaluates the anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory properties of the diet, while the POLA index is designed to additionally include several bioactive compounds, mainly found in vegetables, fruits and nuts, that are not yet included in dietary databases. , although it has a clear effect on the immune response.
“DII is a universally recognized tool for assessing the pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory properties of a diet, and our goal was to develop an index that, based on the consumption of individual nutrients from food products, would measure the immune-modulating potential of the diet, that is, simply put, it would show the eating behaviors that should To ensure the optimal functioning of our immune system – explains Dr. Jagielski. – The food we eat, especially vegetables, fruits and nuts, contains many antioxidants, viruses, bacteria, anti-inflammatories, etc. compounds that synergistically support the optimal functioning of the immune system, and in a broader aspect affect on our health.
In order to practically confirm the efficacy of POLA, scientists from the Jagiellonian University School of Medicine examined its work on a group of 95 adults, without comorbidities, using a conventional or vegetarian diet on a daily basis, among whom the risk of contracting COVID-19 was then assessed.
It also turns out that people who follow a diet that has a beneficial effect — according to the POLA index — have an immunomodulatory effect (BIM) of about 80 percent. Reduced risk of contracting COVID-19 compared to people on a diet with a very adverse immunogenic effect (HUBIM).
“A healthy lifestyle, including eating a well-balanced diet, moderate physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and managing stress, contributes to the optimal functioning of our immune system. On the other hand, many lifestyle factors, such as unhealthy eating habits, can The authors conclude that a properly balanced diet ensures optimal functioning of the immune system, and that poor eating habits contribute to a weakening of its functioning. the post.
And although the POLA index has so far only been assessed in the context of COVID-19, it has – according to researchers from Krakow – a much broader application. Given that our immune system is constantly exposed to various pathogens, it can be a very useful tool. However, more research is needed to implement it in clinical practice.
“We would like to use the POLA index to assess the immune-modulating potential of the diet, depending on the intake of immune-boosting nutrients. In daily practice, it can serve as a useful tool for dietitians to identify individuals who are deficient in nutrients that ensure optimal functioning of the immune system and correct changes in Their nutritional behavior, leading to optimal immune function and a reduced risk of infection … We would also like the POLA index to be used by scientists who study the relationship between diet, the immune system and the occurrence of, for example, infectious respiratory diseases “- emphasizes.
PAP – Science in Poland, Katarzyna Czechowicz
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