Overcoming immunity debt with nutrition

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Now that children are back in school, it is important for parents to keep a check on their children’s immunity debt.

Quoting a study conducted in France, verywellfamily.com—an award-winning resource for reliable, compassionate, and up-to-date information on pregnancy and parenting topics that matter most—said an immunity debt “is caused by a lack of exposure to regular bacteria and viruses.”

The study added that the adoption of the minimum health standards of the proper wearing of masks, physical distancing, regular washing of the hands to combat COVID-19, “also helped stop the circulation of other common illnesses.”

Dr. Jose Rodolfo Dimaano, Jr., Medical Affairs Director of Abbott Nutrition Business in Pacific Asia, pointed out that once these children are let out of their homes and into the streets, they will be exposed and their immune systems might not have been prepared to deal with this.

“As such, they might be prone to infections once the communities and schools open and at the same time, many of them may have missed their vaccination during the two and a half years spent at home,” Dr. Dimaano said.


Since these children may have missed their vaccination schedules, there might be the reemergence of diseases like diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella, among others, later on in life.

“It’s important that parents go back and make sure that their children’s vaccinations are on schedule and have been taken. Secondly, parents should also give nourishment that will boost the vaccination response,” he added.

Dr. Dimaano was one of the Abbott officials who was at the recent media round table discussion that featured the study of Rachael Buck, a Senior Research Fellow at Abbott, with the title “The impact of early nutrition on immunity and the future of young children’s health.”

With more than 90 years of experience in pediatric health, Abbott continues its research to create the best possible scientific-forward nutrition for children. It is dedicated to continuously improving children’s nutrition and believes that with good nutrition, every stage of life can be a healthy one.

A mom hugging her sons in the kitchen
Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) help strengthen children’s immunity because they feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut


While parents are protective of their children and do not want them to be exposed “to dirt, to the playground or to pets,” Dr. Dimaano said such exposure can actually be helpful as this “primes the immune system so that they can react appropriately once they are exposed to pathogenic substances.”

“So let us not be afraid to let them explore, go to the playground and interact with friends and classmates, but of course, with the necessary precautions with the mask, washing of hands and social distancing,” he said.

Nutrition also plays an important role and hence it is important that “all the colors of the rainbow should be on the plate” so that children can get all the micronutrients, proteins, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients. This was the topic that Buck tackled in her study.

Buck’s areas of expertise include pediatric nutrition, immune health, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) and nucleotides. As a discovery scientist in the field of immune health, Buck studied the components of breast milk to help Abbott nutritionists develop infant formulas that are as close as possible to breast milk.


Buck is leading the pioneering research program for HMOs which are beneficial prebiotic like nutrients found in breast milk that support intestinal and overall health.

In her study, she pointed out that everything starts with the gut, from early digestion to brain development to the immune system. What makes the gut more interesting is the microbiome which consists of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful.

“You may have heard of the beneficial bacteria that resides in the gut. There are trillions of organisms that live in the gut and they need to be fed. And what is important about beneficial bacteria is that if you give them the gift of certain foods, they will give you the gift of health,” Buck said.

What the gut needs, Buck said, is a special type of prebiotics called HMOs which are abundant in milk, specifically formula milk.

“Through our research, what we know is that the HMO feeds the bacteria and that is important to the immune system because the beneficial bacteria that live and reside in the gut stimulate the immune system,” she explained, adding that Abbott is the first in the world to provide nutrition with five HMOs that support health, growth and development, digestive health and the immune system.

The research on HMOs has demonstrated improved immunity benefits similar to breastfed infants. Preclinical research also shows that HMOs reduce intestinal discomfort, reduce food allergy symptoms, and enhance cognition, which may lead to diverse health benefits for infants.


Dr. Dimaano emphasized that HMOs can only be obtained in formula milk like Similac Gainschool. The HMOs “feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut to maintain a healthy microbiome.”

“HMOs are special prebiotics that help strengthen immunity because they feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Unlike other prebiotics, they are absorbed into the blood stream to support the immune system beyond the gut,” he said.

“Children need the right nutrition to nourish their growing bodies and develop better cognition and stronger immune systems. Ensuring children have the right nutrients is important to help defend them against illnesses and infections, while helping to support their growth and cognitive function,” Buck added.


Anne Ruth Dela Cruz
Anne Ruth Dela Cruz
Anne is a seasoned journalist and corporate communications specialist. After 13 years in the health care industry, she is back to where she started—print media.


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