At ClearFast, we’re all about empowering patients with the information they need to have better surgery experiences and stronger recoveries. Part of that empowerment process often means breaking down medical jargon and industry buzzwords in a way patients can understand and act upon. Today, then, we’re talking about the latest medical buzzword: immunonutrition. Read on to learn what it is and what in the world it has to do with your health journey.
What is immunonutrition?
Essentially, immunonutrition involves activating our body’s immune system through the intake of specific nutrients. “Immunonutrition” is an umbrella term used to describe nutrients that affect the immune system. This includes things like glutamine, antioxidants, and n-3 (omega 3) fatty acids. Nutrients that fall under the category of immunonutrition can inhibit inflammation, improve or increase immune function, enhance T-cell function, and decrease the body’s inflammatory response.
What does immunonutrition have to do with surgery?
Surgery can spark a systemic inflammatory response that ultimately puts high metabolic demands on a patient and can lead to a depletion of their essential nutrient stores. In layman’s terms? Surgery can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to infection and other dangerous complications. In fact, infection is the most common cause of mortality following surgery—so it makes sense that physicians and medical professionals take every step possible to avoid it. Immunonutrition, then, tries to address this issue by controlling your immune response by providing your body the nutrients it needs to avoid vulnerability and infection following surgery.
How is immunonutrition administered?
Because patients struggle to meet nutritional requirements during the post-op period (thanks to issues like post-op nausea and vomiting, among other factors), immunonutrition is administered enterally (i.e. via the GI tract), through a feeding tube.
If you want to take immunonutrition into your own hands, however, you can start by ensuring your body has the fuel it needs to go under the knife strong and recover faster. Our plant-based protein drink can be consumed in the weeks leading up to surgery, and CFpreop, our presurgery drink, can be consumed up to two hours before surgery. We also recommend working both into your recovery routine to ensure your immune system is strong as you recover.
What nutrients are included in immunonutrition formulas?
While immunonutrition includes a number of nutrients, the most common nutrients found in enteral immunonutrition medical formulas include:
- Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: These may inhibit inflammation and enhance T helper cell function.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress—including stress brought about by surgery when the body releases oxidants in response to inflammation.
- Amino Acids: This category includes things like Glutamine (an important nutrient for cell division and one that improves gut carrier function) and Arginine (which stimulates nitric oxide synthesis, growth hormone production, and increases T helper cell count).
For those who want to take immunonutrition into their own hands, CFprotein is chock-full of Omega 3 and anti-inflammatory nutrients, helping you build up your strength and protect your immune system before you go under anesthesia.
So, does immunonutrition work?
While immunonutrition has promising potential to reduce length of hospital stay and reduce the risk of infection by helping patients avoid malnourishment and a weakened immune system, it’s important to note that research on the efficacy of immunonutrition is inconclusive (due to variations in immunonutrient feeding mechanisms, amounts patients were fed, the timing of patient feeding, and an array of other individual factors).