Micronutrient deficiencies probably have few direct effects on the functioning of immune cells. The main effect appears to be a reduction in cell mass that may indirectly affect immune cell function, particularly where T helper cell numbers are reduced. Results of many human studies are contradictory. Some of this contradiction may be accounted for by the fact that disease may lower concentrations of micronutrients in plasma that may be misinterpreted as deficiency. Low plasma vitamin A concentrations however appear to impair immune responsiveness and have deleterious effects on membrane integrity and mucosal function. Zinc may have similar effects on gut integrity and appears to be particularly useful in the treatment of acute diarrhoea. Low concentrations of other nutrients such as ascorbate and iron, may not necessarily impair immune function. Low plasma ascorbate may assist the removal of iron from plasma and low iron concentrations appear to increase the cytotoxicity of macrophages.
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