Health and Nutrition Trends

Dairy ingredients as a way to reinforce the immune system

The rapid progression of the COVID-19 epidemic has put health back at the forefront of consumer concerns. In March 2020, 64% of Chinese consumers were worried about their own and their families’ health [1]. The pandemic has compounded the need to stay healthy with a growing anxiety about poor diet and weight gain. Consumers want to adopt a more beneficial diet and nutrition is more than ever seen as a means of prevention and staying healthy. Moreover, the World Health Organization has created an online platform so as to offer nutritional advice during the pandemic. Dairy products feature by virtue of being a protein source. So how can dairy ingredients support the immune system?

The pandemic has compounded the need to stay healthy with a growing anxiety about poor diet and weight gain.

Consumers increasingly turning to nutrition to strengthen the immune system

COVID-19 is a health crisis that highlights the need to look after one’s health. The anxiety stirred by this pandemic is feeding a demand for products that play a role in boosting immune health. More than a quarter of consumers have been buying more vitamins/food supplements since the epidemic began [2]. Aside from food supplements, consumers are looking for foods and drinks that can improve their immune system and thus enable them to beat off the disease and stay in good health.

proactive approach to improve the immune system

Figure 1: Consumers adopt a proactive approach when it comes to improving the immune system [3]

Consumers are looking for foods and drinks that can improve their immune system.

In this context, it is clear that nutrition and lifestyle both play an essential role in immune response. It is already a known fact that undernutrition and malnutrition have an impact on the immune system and can increase the risk of infection. Good nutrition is therefore crucial for health, and especially at a time when the immune system may be called on to defend itself.

How can dairy ingredients help support the immune system?

Having a healthy immune system is important because it helps a person fight off colds and other illnesses, get better more speedily when sick and generally feel good. The immune system is made up a complex set of so-called “lymphoid” organs and tissues (bone marrow, lymph nodes, etc.), various cells and different molecules. When the body is under attack, a coordinated reaction brings all these components into action: this is what is known as the immune response.

The immune response in turn increases the body’s need for energy. Having a balanced diet helps sustain the immune system. Proteins in particular play a key role in the immune system, since the majority of cells in the immune system are in fact made up of proteins.

Proteins in particular play a key role in the immune system.

Various components of milk are therefore capable of reinforcing the immune system.

      • Milk proteins: are essential for the renewal of cells in the immune system. Because of their high quality, proteins from milk are a very good source of essential amino acids that the body cannot produce for itself.
      • Whey proteins: also provide essential amino acids, in particular branched chain amino acids, which are necessary to stimulate immune cells [4].
      • Lactoferrin: is a powerful inflammatory response modulator and also has antioxidant properties[5].
      • α-lactalbumin: enhances the function of white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytic cells), which are the body’s primary defense cells[5].
      • Immunoglobulins: are antibodies. They specifically enable the body to detect and neutralize substances recognized as foreign and thus protect itself against them [5].


Our Pronativ® native whey proteins are particularly rich in minor proteins (immunoglobulins, α-lactalbumin and lactoferrin) and are therefore well-suited to the enrichment of products aimed at immune health.

The pandemic has made consumers more aware of their own vulnerability, highlighting the role of healthy nutrition as a way of supporting the immune system and generally preventing illness.
A healthy immune system is important at every stage of life. Not only nutrition but physical exercise also helps support the immune system as part of a long term strategy of healthy aging.
Proteins are at the very heart of a balanced diet. Because of the natural richness of milk, dairy proteins can provide all the amino acids the body needs in order to sustain the immune system.


[1] John Hopkins University; KuRunData/Mintel, China COVID-19 tracker report March 2020. Base: 1,200 Chinese internet users aged 18-59  
[2] GlobalData, Strategies for the new normal 4: How to leverage hyper-health and -hygiene awareness, November 2020.
[3] Lightspeed/Mintel; Dynata/Mintel. Base: US: 2,000 internet users aged 18+ (Nov 2019); Thailand: 1,500 internet users aged 18+ (July 2019); Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+ (July 2019)
[4] Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Immunity. Phillip C. Calder. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 1, January 2006, Pages 288S–293S
[5] Questions sur produits laitiers et immunité. Yvette Soustre & Karine Le Barillec. CNIEL (French Dairy Interbranch Organization), March-April 2013.

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Author : Elodie Macariou

Elodie Macariou is Senior Product Manager and works in the Marketing department of Lactalis Ingredients. She is responsible for the management and development of the milk powder, milk protein and industrial cheese ranges. She also coordinates Lactalis Ingredients’ CSR approach. She holds an engineering degree in Food Science and Business Management, completed by a Master's degree in Business Administration.