a1 EA 2431, Faculté de Médecine, 28 Place Henri Dunant, 63001 Clermont-Ferrand and Hôpital Nord du CHU de Clermont-Ferrand, BP 36, 63118, Cébazat, France
Undernutrition profoundly affects immune responses, particularly at the extremities of life: in infants and in the elderly. The present review focuses on this interrelationship in the elderly. It describes three different stages of ageing: stage 1, healthy ageing, which is observed in very healthy elderly individuals who have no nutritional deficit; stage 2, common ageing, which is observed in most elderly individuals in whom various micronutrient deficits are found; stage 3, pathological ageing, which is observed in patients with protein–energy deficiency. Stage 1, primary immune ageing, is essentially characterized by changes in T-cell subsets but no change in T-cell function; T-cell function is reduced only in the very elderly (>90 years old). Stage 2, secondary immune ageing, is influenced by micronutrient deficits that may be corrected by providing nutritional supplements. Furthermore, immune responses may also be enhanced by supplementation of subjects who have no micronutrient deficits, indicating that the immune system of elderly individuals is highly susceptible to the influence of micronutrients. In stage 3, tertiary immune ageing, the immune responses are strongly related to the decreased nutritional status. In these patients decreased immune responses lead to long-lasting acute-phase responses, which induce greater use of nutritional reserves during disease and lead to increased frailty. As nutritional status has a marked effect on immune responses in elderly individuals, nutritional therapy should be given to elderly individuals who have nutrient deficits, and perhaps also to individuals who do not have nutrient deficits in order to promote healthy ageing and extend the lifespan.