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Free Radicals, Antioxidants, & The Immune System

Posted Feb 23 2010 12:00am

Fast Facts

Free radicals are bad. They cause cell mutations, damage immune function, cause wrinkles and aging and are a contributing cause behind many diseases including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, alzheimers, parkinson’s, and others. Free radical damage is a factor behind almost every known disease according to some researchers

Free radicals are caused by the body’s own natural processes. Free radical excesses are further created from the addition of things like toxins or radiation or poor digestive function. Disease tends to create free radicals. We are constantly creating free radicals at an astonishing speed.

Relating to the immune system specifically, free radicals damage immune cells and wipe out cytokine (communication) pathways.

The antidote to free radicals is the antioxidant. We make some antioxidants and some are traditionally supplied in the diet (fruits, vegetables). Environmental influences have increased the need well beyond what our bodies are capable of producing, and even beyond diet – as in can you actually eat 7 pounds of spinach to get 1mg. of alpha lipoic acid?

Antioxidants work best together not singularly.

Lack Of Antioxidants

Free radical proliferation can also be caused by a lack of antioxidants in the diet, or the inability of the body to produce enough of them.

Antioxidants To The Rescue

“Suppose that I told you there was a pill that would keep your heart strong, your mind sharp, and your body youthful well into your seventies, eighties, nineties, and even beyond? Suppose that I told you there was a pill that could extend your life and improve your sex life? Suppose I told you there was a pill that could prevent cancer? How about a pill that could keep your skin supple and wrinkle-free…I’m talking about antioxidants, a family of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that I have been studying for the better part of my seventy years.” Dr. Lester Packer, The Antioxidant Miracle

Some antioxidants are produced by the body and others must be provided through food or supplements. There are hundreds of antioxidants.

Antioxidants boost immune function. “If an immune system is vigorous, it should be able to take out cancer cells before they cause damage.”

Antioxidants and Immune Function

The immune system is also subject to free radical damage. Immune cells themselves, like T-cells, NK cells and T- helper cells can suffer from free radical damage which will suppress their activity.

Free Radicals Knock Out Cytokine Pathways

According to Dr. Jesse Stoff, free radicals have the ability to knock out cytokine pathways (communication pathways) between cells of the immune system. This is especially valid as a result of radiation which creates the hydroxyl radical, the most vicious of free radicals. The immune system responds according to the cytokine environment. The immune cells don’t operate without that information.

Macrophage Damages Itself Without Antioxidants

The macrophage, a cell of the immune system, releases the free radical nitric oxide to destroy bacteria, parasites and viruses. If it’s over produced, or the antioxidant balance is low, the nitric oxide will turn and damage the macrophage itself thereby impairing its ability to fight off invaders. Antioxidants stop this from happening and still allow the macrophage to do its job.

Low Glutathione Levels A Sure Sign Of Immune Depletion

Glutathione supplementation (Dr. Lester Packer suggests using alpha lipoic acid as glutathione itself is difficult to absorb) supports immune system cells of older people but doesn’t appear to have much effect on the immune cells of younger people. [As a general statement, one would assume the glutathione levels in younger people would be adequate.] However, glutathione depletion will reduce immune function at any age. “Low levels of glutathione in the body are almost always a sign of illness, especially of poor immune function.” Dr. Jesse Stoff

“As we age, there is a measurable drop in immune function, especially by our seventh and eighth decades. Although we may produce as many T-cells and B-cells as we did before, they do not work as well.” Dr. Lester Packer

As a general statement, if this is the case, and our systems are actually producing immune cells in the same numbers when we get older as it did in earlier years, then, obviously other detrimental factors must be at work.

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