The Role Of Antioxidants In Immune Function

The human body requires many different substances to run properly. For example, oxygen is required to make sure that every cell in the body can use the energy provided by food. Nutrients are converted into energy that each cell in the body uses to perform basic functions and regulate chemicals and other substances.

Since each process within the body is separate, it may seem as though one aspect can exist without the other. However, all these separate processes rely on the other to ensure that they can do their job properly. Think of your body as a super-efficient factory that needs every linesperson doing their part to complete the project.

One such process that requires a lot of outside help is the immune system. Immunity is your body’s defense system and protects you against illness, but without nutrients and other systems running as they should, that defense system can become powerless to stop infection or chronic disease. One particular piece of the immunity puzzle is antioxidants – but what are antioxidants, exactly, and what is the role of antioxidants in immune function?

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are important molecules that exist within the body and can also be consumed through diet. They are mostly found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. Some vitamins, including vitamins E and C, can effectively act as antioxidants within the body as well.

close up of blueberries
Image by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash: Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants for immunity.

What is the role of antioxidants?

Antioxidants play an important role in the body because they neutralize free radicals, which are compounds that help to fight off pathogens. Free radicals can react with other molecules with ease, and because of this, they can cause certain reactions known as oxidation. Oxidation can be both good and bad, depending on how much it occurs.

Antioxidants and free radicals need to be in balance so that they can support your health. If the body doesn’t get enough antioxidants, free radicals can build up, and when levels are too high, they can cause damage to proteins, fatty tissue, and even your DNA.

Too much oxidation within the body can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress and the damage caused by an overabundance of free radicals can lead to chronic disease such as inflammatory conditions, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Do antioxidants help your immune system?

Both antioxidants and free radicals have an effect on the immune system. It’s because of free radicals that antioxidants are important for immunity. Since free radicals are helpful when they are in balance, as mentioned above, they need to remain at a steady level. Antioxidants help to achieve that stabilization.

To understand the process in more complex terms, we have to understand how immunity and free radicals are connected. Neutrophils are cells that are part of the immune system. They are tasked with regulating how B-cells, or immune cells, respond to pathogens. When there is a pathogen present in the body, these neutrophils begin working their magic.

When they become activated, they produce free radicals as part of the inflammatory process. While many people think of inflammation as a bad thing, it is actually an important step in defense process, because it acts as a sort of signal to where in the body immune cells need to go. Free radicals are needed for that inflammatory process. When there are too many free radicals, and the inflammatory process is occurring all over the place, the immune system doesn’t know how to react. That is where antioxidants come in to balance it all out for proper immune protection and response.

Another important immunity task in which antioxidants may play a role is hindering the free radicals’ ability to help viruses replicate within the body. They help to interfere with this process when a virus or other pathogen comes into the body to cause harm. According to research, the antioxidants’ ability to do this may even help in the treatment of certain viral diseases.  

person suffering infection
Image by Towfiqu barbhyiya on Unsplash: Do antioxidants help fight infection?

Is there a connection between antioxidants and antibodies?

Another important aspect of antioxidant stores within the body is the way they help with antibodies, which are specialized proteins designed to fight off infection. Antibodies are created by the immune system in response to certain pathogens and are specifically designed to fight off one type of virus or other illness. For example, if a person were to get a particular strain of the flu, their body would create antibodies that remember that specific strain. If that strain of flu came around again, those specialized antibodies would be ready to fight off the infection.

This is connected to antioxidants because research has found that these helpful molecules can actually aid in producing more antibodies in response to an infection. One study examined antibody levels in healthy older adults who were given vitamin E supplements to act as antioxidants. When the subjects of the study were given hepatitis B and tetanus vaccines, it was found that they had a more powerful immune response.

This draws the conclusion that antioxidants not only neutralize free radicals, allowing the body’s immune system to function as it should, but they also play a role in the power and number of viable antibodies protecting the body against infection.

While antioxidants aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to immune health, they certainly play a larger role than medical researchers once thought in protecting you against both infection and chronic disease.

Featured image by Valery Fedotov on Unsplash

How Antioxidants Affect Liver Health

The liver is a vital organ located in the upper right area of the abdomen, on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. Although it is small, only weighing roughly three pounds, it packs a mighty punch when it comes to your overall health. The liver has several main jobs that contribute to how healthy you are.

Firstly, it regulates chemicals in the blood and excretes bile, which is a digestive fluid that helps you break down food. Bile helps the liver get rid of waste. The liver itself holds 13% of all the blood in your body, because blood from the intestines and stomach passes through it so that it can be processed. The processing of the blood involves breaking down drugs or other medications so that they can be metabolized through the body and used. The liver also helps to create certain nutrients for the body to use. (These are simply some highlights – overall, the liver is responsible for as many as 500 bodily functions!)

Some of the things that are broken down by the liver create free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can cause cell damage. Antioxidants are designed to neutralize those free radicals so that cell damage doesn’t occur. But what are antioxidants, exactly? And how do they impact the liver? Read on for all you need to know about how antioxidants affect liver health.

What are antioxidants?

In the simplest terms, antioxidants are molecules that help to fight off free radicals. Although the body has its own antioxidant defense system, antioxidants are also found in foods such as vegetables and fruits. The naturally occurring substance glutathione acts as an antioxidant within the body, while some vitamins also act as antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. Antioxidants are essential to survival – every living thing needs them.

liver doctor graphic
Image by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay: What is the role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in liver diseases?

The reason why antioxidants are so important is because they make sure that there is an appropriate amount of free radicals in the body. While an overabundance of free radicals can lead to cell damage, a deficiency can also hinder your health because free radicals do have some positive roles in the body. (For example, immune cells use free radicals to help the body fight off infections, which keeps you from getting sick.)

The balance between free radicals and antioxidants is what’s important for overall health, and that is why the two are so important. If there is an imbalance, oxidative stress can occur, which can lead to many health issues including cancer and even liver damage.  

Are antioxidants good for fatty liver?

Fatty liver disease, also referred to as steatosis, is caused when there is too much fat build-up in the liver. Fatty liver disease is typically characterized as the liver having 5–10% of its weight in fat. There are many things that can cause fatty liver, such as alcohol abuse, diabetes, or obesity. When it occurs, the liver cannot function as it should.

According to research, antioxidants can be helpful in preventing fatty liver disease because of the way they protect against inflammation and fat accumulation. Other studies have found that people who have fatty liver disease may benefit from introducing more antioxidants into their system because it can help to regulate the way the body synthesizes fatty acids from glucose and other substances.

Can antioxidants cause liver damage?

While the natural antioxidants that occur in the body and food aren’t likely to cause liver damage, some reports have linked the overuse of antioxidant supplements with liver damage. This is because everything that goes into the body, especially medications and supplements, is eventually filtered through the liver. When there is too much of any given thing, the liver cannot effectively clear it out. It comes down to dosage: the higher the dosage, the more likely your liver is to struggle with processing.

That being said, the clinical research surrounding liver damage caused by antioxidants is scarce. While some studies have found that the use of herbal and other types of supplements has increased the risk of supplement-driven liver damage in the country, the types of supplements are not specifically named as antioxidants. Most of the evidence surrounding the use of antioxidant supplements shows beneficial side effects for those with liver damage or disease.

matcha green tea
Image by Matcha & CO on Unsplash: What antioxidants are good for liver health? Those found in matcha tea are a good place to start!

What antioxidants are good for the liver?

While all types of antioxidants are good for the body, research has found that some stand out when it comes to liver health. One particular study investigated the use of antioxidants to support liver health and found that the ones most closely associated with positive benefits included:

  • Curcumin
  • Quercetin
  • Naringenin

These three antioxidants were shown to be possible and viable treatment options for people with liver injuries.

Other research has found that certain foods containing antioxidants may be beneficial, such as:

  • Green tea
  • Grapefruit
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Beetroot juice

Beetroot juice, in particular, contains antioxidants known as betalains, which have been shown to reduce the oxidative stress that can lead to cell damage in all areas of the body, including the liver.

Your liver is a miraculous organ that can make or break your health, depending on how you take care of it. Having adequate intake of antioxidants will ensure that you don’t fall victim to free radical damage and other issues that could hinder your liver’s ability to do its job.

Featured image by Gemma Evans on Unsplash