OBJECTIVE: To report the effects of the deficiency of copper, zinc and magnesium on the immune system of severely malnourished children. DATA SOURCE: A literature review was performed by consulting the databases Pubmed Medline, Lilacs and SciELO, using the descriptors: child malnutrition, copper, zinc, magnesium and immune system. Representative studies published during the last decade were chosen. DATA SYNTHESIS: Micronutrients are essential organic compounds. Besides their regulatory function, the minerals act on the modulation of the immune response. Their deficiency may be due to inadequate intake or associated with specific diseases. When combined with malnutrition, a multimineral deficiency can cause immune dysfunction and increased susceptibility to infections, altering the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. Copper, zinc and magnesium act as co-factors of both enzymes responsible for several metabolic activities and associated to the innate and acquired immune response. These minerals also play an important role in the maturation of lymphoid tissues and cells. Their deficiency causes neutropenia and lymphopenia, decreasing the immunocompetence. CONCLUSIONS: Deficits of serum copper, zinc and magnesium affect the function of the immune system, leading to immunosuppression. The replacement of these elements in the management of severe malnutrition, as recommended by the World Health Organization, is essential, since such changes may be reversible.
minerals; immune system; child nutrition disorders