The best time to get the most from antioxidants

Your immune system depends on antioxidants to help it protect the body from toxins, invading germs and premature aging. And researchers have identified the best time to ingest these nutrients.

A study at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute shows that the most crucial time to take antioxidants is when you grow older and enter middle age, a time when your immune system starts to slip and stops being very potent.

The problem starts when aging causes the body’s manufacture of immune cells to slow.

With every passing year, the thymus gland, which is responsible for forming immune cells called T lymphocytes, shrinks. And as it grows smaller, so does your supply of T lymphocytes — leaving the body unable to adequately respond to an infection.

In this investigation, the scientists found that an antioxidant enzyme in the body called catalase is responsible for defending the thymus against what’s known as metabolic damage — injuries from caustic molecules called free radicals that result from the body’s everyday activities like digesting food and producing cellular energy. But as we get older, the amount of catalase available to help the thymus maintain its size and function diminishes drastically.

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“The thymus begins to atrophy rapidly in very early adulthood, simultaneously losing its function,” says researcher Howard Petrie. “This new study shows for the first time a mechanism for the long-suspected connection between normal immune function and antioxidants.”

The Scripps lab tests showed that an antioxidant nutrient, like vitamin C, can allay the thymus shrinkage that results from getting older, and can take over some of the protective duties of catalase by defusing the destructive power of free radicals. Destroying free radicals is what antioxidants do best.

In turn, that immune system advantage can then help keep you from getting sick.

There are many classes of antioxidants, some extremely powerful, and the great news is you can get most of them easily from food sources. Some can even be combined to boost their effectiveness. Getting plenty of them in your diet is the best way to keep your thymus — and you — from aging.

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.