How to build an immune health claim

How to build an immune health claim

Trained in nutrition science and epidemiology at Wageningen University, Alwine Kardinaal now focuses on scientific substantiation of health benefits of foods and food ingredients in her role as expertise group leader, Nutrition & Health, at the food research firm NIZO. 

How do we study the immune-boosting effect of ingredients and components in humans?

Alwine Kardinaal: The human immune system is very complex, involving the interaction of many cells and tissues in the body. In fact, the immune system has two distinct parts, working closely together: the innate immune system, which regulates the body’s short-term response to an external invader, and the adaptive immune system, which memorises the response and regulates the long-term reaction. It is important to know which part is relevant to your ingredient or component.

To understand and verify the immune-boosting effect of a food component, you need to collect strong evidence: not just of what the effect is, but how and why it occurs. This is best achieved with an integrative approach including pre-clinical studies, well-designed clinical trials, biomarker analysis and expert interpretation.

Clinical studies with faecal samples can provide insight on the impact of food components, fibres, probiotics and other ingredients on gut microbiota, and subsequent local and systemic immune responses.

Immune modulation graphic

What are we specifically looking for in a clinical trial?

AK: A human clinical study on immune health benefits provides scientific evidence of whether the food component impacts resistance to infection. This could be either reducing the likelihood of infection itself, or reducing the severity or duration of the infection.

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