One overlooked vitamin could save your immune system

If you’ve been flummoxed by doctors who say we don’t need to take vitamin supplements, or that they’re somehow bad for you, consider this:

New research shows that an overlooked vitamin can save you from a disastrous infection.

How can one nutrient have such an effect? Well, your immune system is constantly on the lookout for harmful bacteria and viruses, killing them even though you are unaware of its constant efforts on your behalf.

But sometimes the immune system needs your help. When your body is undergoing significant levels of oxidative stress, immune cells become weaker. They are more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by pathogens that can make you seriously ill.

Before that happens, extra vitamin E can save you.

Oxidative stress is a common occurrence in a polluted world. It can result from overexposure to the sun, inhaling air pollution, breathing tobacco smoke or even downing a few too many alcoholic beverages. All of these circumstances can compromise your immune system.

The problem begins in immune cells called T cells which are supposed to recognize infectious invaders in the body and begin a process to kill those pathogens.

When you’re under too much oxidative stress, this system breaks down. T cells run short of an enzyme called Gpx4 that keeps their cells membrane intact. The result: a chronic infection that your immune system can never quite get rid of.

However, just as Popeye perks up when he eats spinach, T cells supplied with extra vitamin E get back on their feet and knock out infection. Clinical trials show that consuming extra vitamin E results in more effective T cells.

“The benefit of vitamin tablets is a controversial topic,” says researcher Manfred Kopf. He says that this study makes a powerful case for taking vitamin supplements. “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.”

Kopf says that if you suffer from diabetes or a neurodegenerative illness like multiple sclerosis, you should be taking vitamins – and plenty of vitamin E.

When you take vitamin E, look for natural vitamin E. What does that mean? First, it’s best to get a mix of all eight forms of vitamin E, both the tocotrienols and the tocopherols. But the natural form is labeled as with just a “d,” like d-tocopherol. The synthetic form is created in a lab (there will be a “dl” in front of the name), and doesn’t absorb as well.

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.