Food as a regulator of immunity
The primary purpose of eating (or consumption of food items) is to provide our body the components and energy source for life activities. Food, however, is also known to have other functions than providing components and energy. There is an ancient Chinese anecdote that the extract of the beefsteak plant is instrumental in recovery from food poisoning. For several thousand years, fermented dairy products have widely been used as preserved food and to treat sick people. It is well known that Dr. Ilya Mechnikov promoted the lactic acid bacteria in yogurt for healthy life and longevity. These examples and others indicate that some food contain ingredients beneficial for the immune activity in the human body.
Insufficient food intake, or malnutrition, is known to be associated with significant impairment of health and immunity. Among the current total population of 7.2 billion people in the world, roughly 0.8 billion are estimated to be starving, mostly in developing countries, but also some in developed countries. Malnutrition causes weakening of the immune function in children, resulting in increased cases of death due to infectious diseases. For example, protein-malnutrition is known to be associated with significant impairment of macrophage function, the reduction of immunoglobulin levels in serum, and reduced T-cell responses, and that these consequently impair overall immune response towards infectious diseases. Nucleic-acid malnutrition lowers natural-killer (NK) and cell-mediated immunity, and delays recovery from blood poisoning. Supplementation of these food components indeed restores the impaired immune reactions. Fatty acids also regulate immune reactions; for example, the intake of ω·3 unsaturated fatty acids suppress inflammation and allergic reactions, the latter being hyper-reactive immune responses. These examples are some indications that food ingredients have the capacity to regulate immunity.
Immunity is instrumental in sustaining health, and is affected by ageing, stress, life habits and other factors. Immune reactivity can be regulated by a variety of factors. Senior citizens tend to be vulnerable to infectious disease due to a lower T-cell response and antibody production. Strong psychological stress is known to cause a reduction in NK activity and antibody production. Smoking, excess alcohol intake and a lack of physical exercise are observed to reduce NK activity, antibody response and neutrophil migration.
Many research and clinical investigations have been conducted to prove the immune regulatory functions of food and food ingredients until now. Vitamin A was found to protect people against infectious disease in the early 20th century, and its intake was confirmed to prevent measles deaths in the late 20th century. Probiotics consumed as food for a long time have recently been subjected to active scientific evaluation. The efficacy of certain foods in persons with specific disease has been evaluated. For normal healthy individuals, it has often been difficult to obtain clear understanding of practical and public health significance.
Until now, various immunological parameters have been used for health evaluation. Extensive investigations, however, are still highly desirable to cover all aspects of immunity among healthy, mibyou (pre-symptomatic) and affected individuals. Immunological parameters for understanding the immune regulatory function require robust scientific bases and objective acceptance by researchers. Such common understanding will eventually lead to interdisciplinary development of the field of Food Immunology. Food is consumed daily, and Food Immunology has a mission to present to general consumers the effective food for a healthy life. Food with immune regulatory functions could potentially provide safe and effective measures to circumvent the impairment of immune activity and to maintain optimal health status.
Event Chronology of JAFI
October 15, 2001: Food Immunology Research Group was formed by 16 food-related corporations and 11 academically affiliated members.
September 22, 2004: A preparatory group was formed for JAFI.
October 21, 2004: The Japanese Association for Food Immunology (JAFI) was established with the participation of 56 food related corporations and 111 academics.
May 18, 2005: Inaugural Meeting of JAFI was held.
Nov. 9 -10, 2005: 1st JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Toward the Integration of Food Science and Immunology”
Oct. 23 – 24, 2006: 2nd JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Frontiers in Food Immunology”
July 10 – 11, 2007: 3rd JAFI Academic Conference (Joint Symposium with the 13th International Congress of Mucosal Immunology and the 44th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society for Mucosal Immunology)
May 13 – 14, 2008: 4th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Immunomodulation by Food: Basics and Practice”
May 26 – 27, 2009: 5th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Toward Development of Food Immunology”
June 1 – 2, 2010: 6th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Progress in Food Immunology”
Oct. 18 – 19, 2011: 7th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “New Developments in Food Immunology”
Oct. 16 – 17, 2012: 8th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “The Role of Food Immunology in an Aging Society”
Oct. 17 – 18, 2013: 9th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Life Stage and Food Immunology – From Infancy to Old Age -”
Oct. 16 – 17, 2014: 10th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Creating the Future with Food Immunology”
Oct. 15 – 16, 2015: 11th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Anti-aging – From the Perspective of Food Immunology”
Nov. 9 – 10, 2016: 12th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Food and Immunity – Considering Health from the Gut -”
Nov. 9 – 10, 2017: 13th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Food Immunology in the Post-genome Era”
Nov. 15 – 16, 2018: 14th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Food Immunology That Supports Mind and Body – Fermented Foods and Immunity –”
Nov. 19 – 20, 2019: 15th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Development and Aims of Food Immunology”
Nov. 18, 2020: The 1st Online Symposium of JAFI (replacement for 16th JAFI Academic Conference). Main theme “Food Immunology and Viral Infections”
Nov. 16 – 17, 2021: 17th JAFI Academic Conference. Main theme “Immunity and New Normal – The Role of Food -”
Publications of JAFI
Record book of the lectures of the first five years of JAFI (in Japanese, 2011)
Record book of the lectures of the second five years of JAFI (in Japanese, 2016)
Record book of the lectures of the third five years of JAFI (in Japanese, 2020)