CORVALLIS, Ore. One of the beneficial compounds found in green tea has a powerful ability to increase the number of "regulatory T cells" that play a key role in immune function and suppression of autoimmune disease, according to new research in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
This may be one of the underlying mechanisms for the health benefits of green tea, which has attracted wide interest for its ability to help control inflammation, improve immune function and prevent cancer.
Pharmaceutical drugs are available that perform similar roles and have been the subject of much research, scientists say, but they have problems with toxicity. A natural food product might provide a long-term, sustainable way to accomplish this same goal without toxicity, researchers said.
"This appears to be a natural, plant-derived compound that can affect the number of regulatory T cells, and in the process improve immune function," said Emily Ho, an LPI principal investigator and associate professor in the OSU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.
"When fully understood, this could provide an easy and safe way to help control autoimmune problems and address various diseases," Ho said.
The findings have been published in Immunology Letters, a professional journal.
There are many types of cells that have different roles in the immune system, which is a delicate balancing act of attacking unwanted invaders without damaging normal cells. In autoimmune diseases, which can range from simple allergies to juvenile diabetes or even terminal conditions such as Lou Gehrig's disease, this process goes awry and the body mistakenly attacks itself.
Some cells exist primarily to help control that problem and dampen or "turn off" the immune system, including regulatory T cells. The number and proper function of those regulatory T cells, in turn, is regulated by other biological processes such as
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Oregon State University