New study demonstrates immune benefits of high-dose vitamin C

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Higher-dose vitamin C supplementation could help maintain immune functions in aging people.

So says new research conducted on mice in Japan.

Japanese researchers supplemented the diet of vitamin C-deficient mice with either the recommended 20 mg of vitamin C per day OR a high dose of 200 mg per day.

After one year the researchers measured the weight of the thymus—an immune organ that aids in production of T-cells—and the number of immune cells in the peripheral blood, spleen and thymus.

The results showed a high vitamin C intake could inhibit the usual age-related decrease in the size of the thymus and maintain thymic output.

In plain language this means more stable immune cell counts as the mice aged… something that scientists also hope to achieve with humans. And along these lines, researchers said the findings could point to solutions for maintaining immune functions in elderly people.

The results of the study were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The goal, according to the authors, was to examine the influence of the vitamin on the number and function of immune cells—an immune response that is still poorly understood.

A little background on the thymus, and how it is linked to aging and the immune system, will help our readers comprehend the importance of this particular study:

The thymus is a small gland found at the base of the neck. It grows until puberty (in humans), after which it slowly degenerates as part of the aging process. This is why the health of this small organ is thought to be so critical relative to the slowing of the immune system as a person ages.

The thymus is a key site for the development and differentiation of T-cells, a type of white blood cell which is key to the immune system.

According to the researchers in the study, “Chronic involution of the thymus is thought to be one of the major factors contributing to the decline of immune function with increasing age.”

In the study, T-cell counts were significantly higher in the high-dose vitamin C group when compared to the lower dose. The researchers said the differential is likely due to vitamin C’s ability to encourage the production of fibronectin, laminin and collagen.

The research was conducted in a joint effort by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology and the House Wellness Foods Corporation.

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