(NaturalNews) A compound that naturally occurs in broccoli may help prevent the oxidizing damage that causes the immune system to decline with age, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The chemical, known as sulforaphane, has previously been linked with lowered cancer risk. Now researchers believe that it may also help activate certain antioxidant genes that remove dangerous free radicals from the body.
"As we age, the ability of the immune system to fight disease and infections and protect against cancer wears down as a result of the impact of oxygen radicals on the immune system," lead researcher Andre Nel said. "Our defense against oxidative stress damage may determine at what rate we age, how it will manifest and how to interfere in those processes."
Researchers dosed mice with sulforaphane for a total of 16 days, five days before exposure to an infectious agent, and 11 days after. They found that older mice treated with the chemical soon acquired the immune system health of younger mice. The same effect occurred when the researchers injected sulforaphane into the immune cells of old mice and then reimplanted those cells.
Mice whose cells or bodies were dosed with sulforaphane underwent a restoration of immune function, particularly in the dendritic cells that are responsible for identifying infectious agents to other immune cells.
Sulforaphane's ability to help the body identify foreign infection suggests possible therapeutic treatments, according to Nel.
"This is a radical new way of thinking in how to increase the immune function of elderly people to possibly protect against viral infections and cancer," Nel said. "We may have uncovered a new mechanism by which to boost vaccine responses by using a nutrient chemical to impact oxidant stress pathways in the immune system."