One of the biggest threats to the human immune system comes from oxidative stress. News-medical.net defines oxidative stress as, “essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.”
There are many sources of oxidative stress that you are exposed to on
a daily basis, such as air pollution, smoking, drinking alcohol, and UV
radiation. The more oxidative stress we are exposed to, the weaker our
immune system gets.
A new study by the Institute of Molecular Health Science in Zurich,
Switzerland, in collaboration with the Institute of Developmental
Genetics in Neuherberg, Germany and the Institute of Clinical Molecular
Biology and Tumor Genetics in Munich, Germany, has shown for the first
time that high doses of vitamin E can alleviate this stress on immune
How the battle begins
Once your body is invaded by foreign pathogens or viruses, a special
class of immune cell, or T cells as they are properly called, kick into
gear and begin to reproduce quickly. These little guys comprise the army
of your immune system, and they wage the war over whether or not you
end up sick.
T cells are classified into subclasses by function. CD8+ T cells are
the soldiers that run the frontline against the pathogen or virus and
kill the infected cells. Other T cells, classified as CD4+ T cells are
in charge of directing the immune system’s response to all types of
invading pathogens. The CD4+ T cells are the generals in the battle for
Unfortunately, it can take about a week before the T cells start to
do much damage to an invading pathogen because when there are fewer T
cells it takes time for them to identify an “enemy” pathogen to target.
It is only after an invading enemy has been identified that the
scouting cells will start dividing and multiplying. Even then, it can
take up to twelve hours for cells to divide. So it will require a few
days before the T cell army is big enough to do serious damage to the
This is the part where oxidative stress can compromise your health.
If your immune cells are damaged and weakened by oxidative stress, then
your immune system cannot respond properly. You see oxidative stress not
only damages T cells, but it also deprives your body of the ability to
Immune cells require an enzyme Gpx4 in order to repair themselves.
Gpx4 is the enzyme that repairs oxidative stress damage to the cell
membrane. Without Gpx4, the T cells end up dying when they divide,
instead of growing in number. At that point, they cannot fight off
infection, and it may turn into a chronic condition.
Genetically altered mice prove effectiveness
For purposes of the study, the research team led by Manfred Kopf, a
professor at ETH, Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Health Sciences,
experimented on mice who lacked the repair enzyme Gpx4. Researchers
found they were able to save the immune cells of the mice by mixing the
animals food with large doses of vitamin E.
It took a dose of 500 mg per kg of mouse food to protect the T cell
membranes and allow them to multiply successfully. That quantity is ten
times more than the normal amount present in the food.
The mice they used for the study had a Gpx4 gene that could be
deactivated for purposes of the test. The mice were genetically altered
by researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, the German Research Center
for Environmental Health. Researchers from ETH altered the mice further
so that the gene was able to be inactive in T cells.
“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. That is new and surprising,” said Kopf.
The findings of this research also showed that immune cells can die
off in the same manner as some cancer cells do when they are exposed to
cytostatic drugs. This type of cell death, also called ferroptosis, was
first explained scientifically in 2012.
“We are the first to demonstrate that oxidative stress causes immune
cells to suffer the same type of death as cancer cells,” points out
Impact on human health
In the meantime, researchers are not sure how the findings of the study
may impact current schools of thought on human health and wellness. In
people with a normally functioning immune system, a vitamin supplement
is probably unnecessary. On the other hand, oxidative stress can occur
at any time from a number of factors; therefore, a vitamin E supplement
might prove beneficial.
“The benefit of vitamin tablets is a controversial topic,” says Kopf.
As he explained it, there is not a lot of supportive scientific
evidence at this point to argue in favor of supplements. That is one of
the reasons he felt the findings of this study were so important in
proving the effectiveness of vitamin E and its effects on immune system
Without question, some people are more at risk than others. It would
seem a supplemental antioxidant might benefit patients with diabetes or
neurodegenerative diseases that are known to suffer great amounts of
oxidative damage. The difficulty is in determining a proper amount.
Since the study was done on mice, not people, more research is needed.
The British National Health Service (NHS) recommends daily vitamin E intake levels of 4 mg for men and 3 mg for women.
Other health benefits of vitamin E
Studies have shown that vitamin E can play a role in delaying or
preventing coronary heart disease. It also plays a part in preventing
blood clot formation that could result in a heart attack.
Because of its antioxidant nutrients, vitamin E has been thought to
possibly help in fighting cancer. Both by protecting cells from damage
by free radicals, but also by blocking carcinogenic nitrosamines from
As a topical medication, pure vitamin E oil can be used to help
assist the skin in the healing process from sunburns, scarring,
wrinkles, acne, and even as an anti-aging treatment. Vitamin E oil helps
the skin to seal in its natural moisture and look healthier.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, experts recommend a once a day
dose of 800 IU of vitamin E for people with the non-alcoholic fatty
liver disease if they are not diabetic. They say there is also some
scientific evidence that indicates vitamin E may be beneficial to
children who suffer from liver disease.
to Dr. Joseph Mercola, D.O., vitamin E has also shown potential for,
“helping to delay loss of cognitive function, such as planning and
organizing, in Alzheimer’s patients.” He refers to a study in which
synthetic vitamin E substances were used but urged that the benefits
would have been greater if a natural form had been applied instead. The
study he refers to can be found here.
Dr. Mercola also makes a valid argument for why vitamin E is always
best when it is obtained naturally from food sources rather than
synthetic supplements. As he points out, “If you eat certain wholesome
foods, all eight of the different vitamin E compounds are naturally
available…” However, “When it comes to synthetic vitamin E supplement,
only one of the eight compounds is available (alpha-tocopherol). The
other seven compounds are not typically available in a
chemically-derived form… ”
Too often, people want a quick fix and may buy the cheapest
supplement available on the market rather than spending time to make
wise food choices. As Mercola explains, “One of my main concerns is, to
save time, you might simply go out and buy the least expensive one you
can find. There’s nothing wrong with trying to save money, but the risk
with ‘cheap’ supplements is that you are frequently better off not
taking any supplement at all. Cheap supplements may compromise your
Natural sources of vitamin E
There are ways to boost your vitamin E levels without taking
supplements. The best source of vitamins is always from the foods they
naturally occur in. Listed below are some great food sources of vitamin
· Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens
· Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds
· Olive oil and olives
· Fortified gluten-free cereals
· Vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocados, carrots, green beans, leeks, and chili peppers
· Fruits such as cranberries, kiwifruit, and raspberries
While vitamin E brings a range of health benefits, there are some adverse effects you should take into consideration.
· When topically applied to the skin vitamin E can cause skin irritation.
· Overdoses of oral vitamin E supplements has been known to cause headache, nausea, fatigue, and bleeding.
· Before taking vitamin E supplements, you should check with your doctor
if it might interfere with any other medications you are already
taking. Particularly, people on blood thinning medication should not
take vitamin E without first consulting a physician.
-The Alternative Daily