Oxidative stress is well known to have a negative impact on your immune system(1) – which is a big part of why things that cause oxidative stress, such as UV radiation, pollution, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes can accelerate the aging process, promoting the release of free radicals. But for the first time ever, researchers may have discovered that high enough doses of vitamin E can actually mitigate the damage that oxidative stress causes to immune system cells.
Immune cells are vital to the function of the body, particularly T-cells, which deal with infections and other pathogens. Commonly referred to as the “generals” of the immune system’s army, T-cells coordinate the immune systems response to all sorts of pathogens, from viruses to other intruders.
Oxidative stress, however, damages T-cells by inhibiting the body’s ability to repair them, according to recent research published in the Journal Of Experimental Medicine(2). When immune cells lack the enzymes they need to repair themselves, T-cells die off as they multiply, leaving the immune system unable to eliminate pathogens.
The Role Of Vitamin E
Fortunately, this new research may prove to be a breakthrough in restoring immune system function which has been compromised by oxidative stress.
Researchers led by a professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Health Scientists tested vitamin E’s ability to protect T-cell’s cell membranes by mixing high doses of vitamin E into the food of mice whose immune cells lacked the enzyme necessary to repair their T-cells.
What they found was that at high enough doses – 500 milligrams per kg of mouse food – the antioxidants in vitamin E could in fact protect T-cells from the damage caused by oxidative stress.
What About Supplements?
Ultimately, researchers on the study feel that they need more evidence in order to make a strong case for the use of vitamin supplements as a means of restoring immune system function. But so far, their study has proved the effectiveness of vitamin E in doing so.
“The benefit of vitamin tablets is a controversial topic,” said Manfred Kopf, lead scientist on the study. “Our work shows that even a genetic defect in a major part of a cell’s antioxidative machinery can be compensated for by delivering a high dose of vitamin E.”
What researchers are more hesitant about is connecting the results of their study on mice to implications for human’s health. While the researchers maintain that individuals with normal health and a balanced diet shouldn’t need vitamin supplements, a vitamin E supplement or other liposoluble antioxidant may make a real difference in immune systems which are compromised by oxidative stress.
Certain patients, such as those with diabetes, suffer from massive oxidative stress – which is what makes the outcome of this study so significant. The promise shown by vitamin E for boosting damaged immune systems could make a real difference in many peoples lives – provided that further research supports it.