In recent years, the word “antioxidant” has become a very important inclusion in the lexicons of health and wellness enthusiasts. So, what are antioxidants really? How do they help our bodies and do they play any role in our immune system? To know this and more, read on…
What Are Antioxidants?
The unstable molecules that are produced because of regular cellular function, as well as external factors including environmental pollution, UV rays and cigarette smoke are known as free radicals. These free radicals harm the body, damage the DNA, membranes and enzymes, triggering oxidative stress.
Free radicals impact various parts of your body adversely; however, the immune system is more sensitive to damage caused by free radicals. This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants are potent compounds that help to defend the body from free radicals, which attack the body and cause damage.
Antioxidants help to neutralize the free radicals and eliminate them from your bloodstream, thus ensuring the optimal functioning of your body. Apart from this, according to experts, antioxidants offer loads of anti aging health benefits to the body including the heart, skin, mood, eyes, cognition and immune system.
Most often, the free radicals exceed the antioxidants that are produced by your body naturally. And, to fight the free radicals, a constant supply of antioxidants is needed, which can be got from external sources i.e., via your diet.
Do Antioxidants Help Your Immune System?
The ability of your body to fight off and prevent infections is known as immunity. And, your immune system involves several organs and tissues, including your skin, bone marrow, white blood cells (WBCs) and lymph, all of which are responsible for the body’s immunity.
Because of various factors, both internal and external, your immune system comes under attack and is weakened, making you vulnerable to various illnesses and diseases. Also, as you grow older or if you’re highly stressed, there is an accumulation of high ROS (reactive oxygen species) levels in the body that promote oxidative stress and inflammation.
Because of the high concentration of free radicals and inflammatory molecules, your normal bodily functions are impacted, especially your immune system. Advancing age can also weaken the immune system of seniors who find that they are more prone to sickness, falling ill very easily and are unable to recover from infections or illnesses as quickly as they used to earlier on.
Your immune system not only protects you from bacterial and viral infections but also helps to protect against chronic illnesses like cancer. The immune system can be strengthened and kept working optimally by the lifestyle choices you make such as following a regular exercise routine and a balanced and nutritious diet.
And, an important part of a healthy and nutritious diet, which is important to ensure a robust immune system is the inclusion of antioxidants. As we discussed earlier, the first line of defense for your body is antioxidants, which include common vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, iron, copper and selenium and polyphenols.
What Antioxidants Are Best For Immune Function?
There are different types of antioxidants, each of which plays a specific role. While some may help to combat free radicals, others may target specific parts of the cell, while others may boost your immune system and help to improve your defense against diseases. So, let’s take a look at some of the key antioxidants and how they can help to improve your immune system.
Ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, is among the most important antioxidants. Vitamin C is a virtual powerhouse that impacts every part of the immune system, by supporting natural killer (NK) cells, antibodies, lymphocytes and neutrophils that help to combat against viruses, infections and diseases and also fight against free radicals, thus preventing illnesses.
Vitamin C is not produced by the body and must be obtained from your diet such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and peppers.
This is an important vitamin required for the normal cell function in the immune system, as well as being the key ingredient to combat oxidative damage. Vitamin E also helps to strengthen the resistance of your body to viral and bacterial infections along with boosting the production of antibodies and NK cells. Excellent sources of vitamin E include almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, seeds, salmon, avocados and mangos.
A powerhouse for immunity, zinc is a superstar when it comes to fighting infections and a zinc deficiency can cause a reduction in NK cells, T-cells and antibodies and poor immune cell response, leading to the overall weakening of your immune system.
Your body does not store this mineral and so you must make up the requirement via your diet through foods like shellfish, meat, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, whole grains and dairy foods.
A powerful antioxidant that helps to support the immune system, selenium identifies and keeps away bacteria, viruses and parasites that are harmful to your body. Further, the body requires selenium to produce selenoproteins, which are essentially selenium-based enzymes that help to regulate the immune responses in the body.
Selenium deficiency can result in weakened immunity and greater vulnerability to viral infections. Selenium-rich foods include pork, ham, turkey, fish, eggs, Brazil nuts, mushrooms, cottage cheese and brown rice.
A key ingredient contributing to immune function, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that helps to protect your body against harmful pathogens. Beta-carotene also supports lymphocytes, which produce antibodies in the body. It can also help to boost the production of T cells in your body that are immune defenders.
Further, beta-carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, which aids in protecting the body against infections. Responsible for the orange, red and yellow colors in various fruits and veggies, beta-carotene is present in carrots, yellow and red peppers, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and apricots.
Flavonoids are essentially plant pigments that have potent antioxidant properties and help to protect your body from damage caused by free radicals apart from supporting cytokines or cells that regulate immune responses in the body.
Foods like apples, bananas, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, pecans, walnuts, tomatoes, onions, artichokes, aubergine, celery, thyme, dill, fava beans, soybeans, tea and red wine are all rich in flavonoids.
Do Antioxidants Help Your Immune System? Wrapping Up
In conclusion, antioxidants play a key role in bolstering your immune system and helping your body to fight against illnesses and diseases. A great way to load up on the antioxidants is by choosing around 5-7 antioxidant-rich foods such as veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains every day.
Aim to add more color to your diet and this is guaranteed to stock up on your antioxidants, as well as boost your immune system.