Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-r29tb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-07T02:06:08.415Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": false, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Effects of dietary antioxidants on the immune function of middle-aged adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2008

David A. Hughes*
Department of Nutrition, Diet and Health, Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UA, UK
Corresponding author: Dr David A. Hughes, fax +44 (0)1603 255237, email
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]


HTML view is not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

The immune system is highly reliant on accurate cell–cell communication for optimal function, and any damage to the signalling systems involved will result in an impaired immune responsiveness. Oxidant-mediated tissue injury is a particular hazard to the immune system, since phagocytic cells produce reactive oxygen species as part of the body's defence against infection. Adequate amounts of neutralizing antioxidants are required, therefore, to prevent damage to the immune cells themselves. Many antioxidants can be obtained directly from the diet (e.g. ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, carotenoids and polyphenolic flavonoids) or require micronutrients as integral components (e.g. Se in the metalloenzyme glutathione peroxidase (EC Numerous epidemiological studies have found strong associations between diets rich in antioxidant nutrients and a reduced incidence of cancer, and it has been suggested that a boost to the body's immune system by antioxidants might, at least in part, account for this. Although more striking effects have been observed in the elderly, there is also evidence that antioxidant nutrients can modify cell-mediated immune responses in younger individuals. Indeed, it might be essential to have an adequate intake of antioxidant nutrients from an early age in order to help prevent the development of, or at least delay the onset of, several degenerative disorders. The present paper will review the effects of specific nutrients on immune function in young to middle-aged human subjects, focusing on the antioxidant vitamins C and E, and on Se. A further review, dealing more specifically with the effects of carotenoids on human immune function, will be presented at a forthcoming meeting of the Nutrition Society.

Reproduction and Development Group Symposium on ‘Nutrition and immunology from fetal life to old age’
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 1999


Anderson, R (1982) Effects of ascorbate on normal and abnormal leucocyte functions. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 23, Suppl., 2334.Google ScholarPubMed
Anderson, R & Lukey, PT (1987) A biological role for ascorbate in the selective neutralisation of extracellular phagocyte-derived oxidants. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 498, 229247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anderson, R, Oosthuigen, R, Maritz, R, Theron, A & Van Rensburg, A (1980) The effect of increasing weekly doses of ascorbate on certain cellular and humoral immune functions in normal volunteers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 33, 7176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anderson, R, Smith, MJ, Joone, GK & Van Straden, AM (1990) Vitamin C and cellular immune functions. Protection against hypochlorous acid-mediated inactivation of glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and ATP generation in human leukocytes as a possible mechanism of ascorbate-mediated immunostimulation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 587, 3448.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Baker, KR & Meydani, M (1994) Beta-carotene in immunity and cancer. Journal of Optimal Nutrition 3, 3950.Google Scholar
Beach, RS, Mantero-Atienza, E, Shor-Posner, G, Javier, JJ, Szapocznik, J, Morgan, R, Sauberlich, HE, Cornwell, PE, Eisdorfer, C & Baum, MK (1992) Specific nutrient abnormalities in asymptomatic HIV-1 infection. AIDS 6, 701708.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beck, MA (1998) The influence of antioxidant nutrients on viral infection. Nutrition Reviews 56, S140S146.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bendich, A (1994) Recent advances in clinical research involving carotenoids. Pure and Applied Chemistry 66, 10171024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bendich, A (1996) Antioxidant vitamins and human immune responses. Vitamins and Hormones 52, 3562.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bendich, A, Burton, GW, Machlin, LJ, Scandurra, O & Wayner, DDM (1986) The antioxidant role of vitamin C. Advances in Free Radical Biology and Medicine 2, 419444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blackwell, TS & Christman, JW (1997) The role of nuclear factor-kB in cytokine gene regulation. American Journal of Respiratory and Cell Molecular Biology 17, 39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boxer, LA (1986) Regulation of phagocyte function by α-tocopherol. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 45, 333334.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Boxer, LA, Watanabe, AM, Rister, M & Besch, HR (1976) Correction of leucocyte function in Chediak-Higashi syndrome by ascorbate. New England Journal of Medicine 295, 10411045.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chavance, M, Brubacher, G, Herbeth, B, Vernes, G, Mistacki, T, Deti, F, Fournier, C & Janot, C (1985) Immunological and nutritional status among the elderly. In Nutrition, Immunity, and Illness in the Elderly, pp. 137145 [Chandra, RK, editor]. New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
Coulehan, JL, Reisinger, KS, Rogers, KD & Bradley, DW (1974) Vitamin C prophylaxis in a boarding school. New England Journal of Medicine 290, 610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Devaraj, S & Jialal, I (1997) Alpha-tocopherol inhibits IL-1β from human monocytes. FASEB Journal 11, 3753.Google Scholar
Devaraj, S, Li, D & Jialal, I (1996) The effects of a-tocopherol supplementation on monocyte function. Journal of Clinical Investigation 98, 756763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Favier, A, Sappey, C, Leclerc, P, Faure, P & Micoud, M (1994) Antioxidant status and lipid peroxidation in patients infected with HIV. Chemico-Biological Interactions 91, 165180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frei, B, England, L & Ames, BN (1989) Ascorbate is an outstanding antioxidant in human blood plasma. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 86, 63776381.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gruner, S, Volk, H-D, Falck, P & Baehr, RV (1986) The influence of phagocytic stimuli on the expression of HLA-DR antigens; role of reactive oxygen intermediates. European Journal of Immunology 16, 212215.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Halliwell, B & Aruoma, OI (1991) DNA damage by oxygen-derived species: Its mechanisms and measurement in mammalian systems. FEBS Letters 281, 919.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hughes, DA, Haslam, PL, Townsend, PJ & Turner-Warwick, M (1985) Numerical and functional alterations in circulatory lymphocytes in cigarette smokers. Clinical and Experimental Immunology 61, 459466.Google ScholarPubMed
Hughes, DA, Wright, AJA, Finglas, PM, Peerless, ACJ, Bailey, AL, Astley, SB, Pinder, AC & Southon, S (1997) The effect of beta-carotene supplementation on the immune function of blood monocytes from healthy male non-smokers. Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 129, 309317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jackson, MJ, McArdle, A & McArdle, F (1998) Antioxidant micronutrients and gene expression. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 57, 301305.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jacob, RA, Kelley, DS, Pianalto, FS, Swendsein, ME, Henning, SM, Zhang, JZ, Ames, BN, Fraga, CG & Peters, JH (1991) Immunocompetence and oxidant defense during ascorbate depletion of healthy men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54, 1302S1309S.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jacques, PF, Taylor, A, Hankinson, SE, Willett, WC, Mahnken, B, Lee, Y, Vaid, K & Lahav, M (1997) Long-term vitamin C supplement use and prevalence of early age-related lens opacities. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66, 911916.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Johnson, JD, Houchens, DP, Kluwe, WM, Craig, DK & Fisher, GL (1990) Effects of mainstream and environmental tobacco smoke on the immune system in animals and humans: A review. CRC Critical Reviews in Toxicology 134, 356361.Google Scholar
Lesourd, BM (1999) Immune response during disease and recovery in the elderly. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 58, 8598.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
McKenzie, RC, Rafferty, TS & Beckett, GJ (1998) Selenium: an essential element for immune function. Immunology Today 19, 342345.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mangels, AR, Holden, JM, Beecher, GR, Forman, MR & Lanza, E (1993) Carotenoid content of fruits and vegetables: an evaluation of analytical data. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 93, 284296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meydani, SN & Beharka, AA (1996) Recent developments in vitamin E and immune response. Nutrition Reviews 66, S49S58.Google Scholar
Pacht, ER, Kasek, H, Mohammad, JR, Cromwell, DG & Davis, WB (1986) Deficiency of vitamin E in the alveolar fluid of cigarette smokers: Influence on alveolar macrophage cytotoxicity. Journal of Clinical Investigation 77, 789796.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Passi, S, Picardo, M & Morrone, A (1993) Study on plasma polyunsaturated phospholipids and vitamin E, and on erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase in high risk HIV infection categories and AIDS patients. Clinical Chemistry and Enzymology Communications 5, 169177.Google Scholar
Pauling, L (1970) Vitamin C and the Common Cold. San Francisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.Google Scholar
Prasad, JS (1980) Effect of vitamin E supplementation on leukocyte function. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 33, 606608.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pryor, WA & Stone, K (1993) Oxidants in cigarette smoke. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 686, 1228.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rebora, A, Dallegri, F & Patrone, F (1980) Neutrophil dysfunction and repeated infections: influence of levamisole and ascorbic acid. British Journal of Dermatology 21, 4956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rice-Evans, C (1995) Plant polyphenols: free radical scavengers or chain-breaking antioxidants? Biochemical Society Symposium 61, 103116.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Richards, GA, Theron, AJ, Van Rensburg, CEJ, Van Rensberg, AJ, Van Der Merwe, CA, Kuyl, JM & Anderson, R (1990) Investigation of the effects of oral administration of vitamin E and beta-carotene on the chemiluminescence responses and the frequency of sister chromatid exchanges in circulating leukocytes from cigarette smokers. American Review of Respiratory Disease 142, 648654.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Roy, M, Kiremidjian-Schumacher, L, Wishe, HI, Cohen, MW & Stotzky, G (1994) Supplementation with selenium and human immune functions. I. Effect on lymphocyte proliferation and interleukin-2 receptor expression. Biological Trace Elements Research 41, 103114.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sen, CK & Packer, L (1996) Antioxidant and redox regulation of gene transcription. FASEB Journal 10, 709720.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Serfass, RE & Ganther, HE (1975) Defective microbicidal activity in glutathione peroxidase-deficient neutrophils of selenium-deficient rats. Nature 255, 640641.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Siegel, BV (1993) Vitamin C and the immune response in health and disease. In Nutrition and Immunology, pp. 167196 [Klurfeld, DM, editor]. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spallholz, JE, Boylan, LM & Larsen, HS (1990) Advances in understanding selenium's role in the immune system. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 587, 123139.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Thomas, WR & Holt, PG (1978) Vitamin C and immunity: An assessment of the evidence. Clinical and Experimental Immunology 32, 370379.Google Scholar