Vitamin A supplementation to preschool children is known to decrease the risks of mortality and morbidity from some forms of diarrhea, measles, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and malaria. These effects are likely to be the result of the actions of vitamin A on immunity. Some of the immunomodulatory mechanisms of vitamin A have been described in clinical trials and can be correlated with clinical outcomes of supplementation.
The effects on morbidity from measles are related to enhanced antibody production and lymphocyte proliferation. Benefits for severe diarrhea could be attributable to the functions of vitamin A in sustaining the integrity of mucosal epithelia in the gut, whereas positive effects among HIV-infected children could also be related to increased T-cell lymphopoiesis. There is no conclusive evidence for a direct effect of vitamin A supplementation on cytokine production or lymphocyte activation. Under certain circumstances, vitamin A supplementation to infants has the potential to improve the antibody response to some vaccines, including tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and measles. There is limited research on the effects of vitamin A supplementation to adults and the elderly on their immune function; currently available data provide no consistent evidence for beneficial effects. Additional studies with these age groups are needed.