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Nutrition Today:
doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e318257b85c
Nutrient Update

Protective Nutrients: Are They Here to Stay?

Walker, W. Allan MD; Heintz, Kasey MS

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Abstract

Protective nutrients benefit health in various ways beyond their conventionally established nutrient function such as by enhancing immune function, promoting gastrointestinal integrity, impacting metabolism, and preventing disease. Certain of these key nutrients have taken center stage as emerging research is showing that they can play a significant role throughout the life span. Study of an infants’ first natural nutrition, breast milk, has led to an improved understanding of how different compounds can beneficially effect physiological processes and act as protective nutrients. Probiotics, or “healthy bacteria,” are living microorganisms that confer a benefit when consumed in sufficient quantities. For example, certain strains help maintain the balance of the intestinal microbiota, a complex ecosystem that can be influenced by many factors such as stress, antibiotics, and diet. Research suggests that, when the intestinal microbiota is unbalanced, overall health may be affected. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that can be used as an energy source by certain probiotics, thereby helping them grow and flourish to further promote a healthy ecosystem. Additional nutrients such as choline, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids have also gained attention as being protective beyond normal growth and development, possessing functional effects that may be vital to future recommendations for health.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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