Are Antioxidants useful for Improving the Immune System of the Elderly?

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Antioxidants and Immunity: A new study published in the journal Cell Reports concluded aging cripples the production of new immune cells and decreasing the immune systems response to vaccines and putting the elderly at risk of infections. They also stated that antioxidants in the diet slow this damaging effect.

Researchers focused on the thymus that produces T lymphocytes that are critical immune cells that must  be continuously replenished in order for the body to respond to infections. Unfortunately this organ begins to atrophies rapidly in early adulthood  and looses its function. In order to understand the process of how antioxidants slows the process of thymus atrophy and T lymphocyte production they analyzed the activities of genes in two major thymus cell types–stomal cells and lymphoid cells—in mouse tissue and found that stomal cells were specifically deficient in an antioxidant enzyme called catalase, which results in elevated levels of the reactive oxygen by-product of metabolism and, subsequently accelerates metabolic damage.

To confirm  the central role of catalase, researchers increased the levels of this enzyme in genetically altered animal models, resulting in the preservation  of the size of the thymus for much longer. In addition, animals that were given two common dietary antioxidants including vitamin C were also protected from the effects of agin on the thymus. These results take together support the free radical theory of aging that proposes that reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen-peroxide, that is produced during normal metabolism, causes cellular damage that contributed to aging and age-related diseases.

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