Winter is known by the public as a time of cold… and colds. Viruses are believed to spread more easily at low temperatures, so your risk of catching a cold or the flu are increased. People also stay indoors to keep warm during winter, increasing their proximity to others and limiting their exposure to vitamin D, an important vitamin for maintaining a healthy immune system. Research has shown that antioxidants may provide your immune system with the support it needs to ward off any bugs this winter.

Antioxidants play an important role in reducing oxidative stress, a major contributor in several diseases, as the immune system is sensitive to oxidative stress (we go into more detail about oxidative stress and antioxidants here). In short, free radicals have the ability to damage your enzymes, DNA, and membranes (1). Your immune system relies on functioning membranes surrounding its immune cells to ensure that they are able to respond to any challenges. A healthy, functioning immune system is able to recognise any foreign invaders – such as viruses – and immune cells will subsequently destroy them. Damage to immune cells can result in an underperforming immune system and an infection may result.

Clinical trials have found that supplementation with antioxidants has a noticeable effect on positive immune reactions (2). Antioxidants’ ability to scavenge free radicals offers cells and tissues protection. Anthocyanins, a branch of antioxidants, boost the production of cytokines, thus regulating immune responses (3). Cytokines are the messengers that immune cells use to communicate, so you can imagine how detrimental it would be if they were not functioning. You can think of it like messengers in war times – if the messaging was compromised, how would everyone be notified of incoming invaders?

Don’t let a cold bring you down – get some antioxidants in your diet this winter!