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. 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.
Source : pubMed – Effects of dietary antioxidants on the immune function of middle-aged adults
D A Hughes. Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Feb.