Study: Leafy Green Vegetables May Boost Your Immune Defenses

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on
Green Veggies And Immune System

Heated battles have raged across the world’s dinner tables for about as long as anyone can remember. The topic of this unending debate? Vegetables.

Despite their most valiant efforts many parents still struggle with their kids about eating their nightly serving of greens. Visiting your local farmers markets, fresher produce and more interesting/flavorful recipes have been helping to slowly turn the tide, but arming yourself with a little extra knowledge before going into battle doesn’t usually hurt either.

According to newly presented research, eating green vegetables may be an even better way to our bodies healthy than we could have possibly guessed [1]. In addition to being a well-known source of vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients, not to mention both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, it seems that green vegetables of all types are also a key source of specialized chemical signals that our immune systems use to self-communicate.

Breaking Down the Study

Researchers working with the Barbraham Institute, an independently operated biomedical science center closely aligned with Cambridge University in England, have discovered a new connection between cruciferous, or leafy green vegetables, body-wide immune response.

By examining the effects of an artificially controlled diet, completely lacking and green vegetable matter, in laboratory mice, the Barbraham researchers were able to show a marked decline in immune capability over a relatively short span of time. In fact, in as little as two to three weeks, most of their test mice showed a staggering 70-80% reduction in intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs)—a fundamental component of healthy immune function in most mammals, including both mice and humans.

Seeing this, the researchers were able to then trace a complex, multistage relationship between specific chemical compounds found in green cruciferous vegetables, IEL cells, and a cell-surface protein, scientifically referred to as aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhRs). Essentially, they believe that the chemicals found primarily in these vegetables trigger activity in AhR proteins, which in turn seem to at least partially regulate the production of IEL cells throughout the body.

What’s more, AhR proteins play their own additional role in immune defense outside of IEL production. While IEL cells are best known for destroying foreign and infectious material to protect their parent organism, AhR also help to maintain intracellular genetic integrity by acting as a sort of glue which holds DNA together and makes it less vulnerable to attack.

What The Researchers Have to Say:

The research team behind this initial investigation is quick to point out that their findings are only preliminary, and have so far only been examined in laboratory animals. A great deal of additional research is still needed to determine whether or not these same chemical relationships fully apply to humans. But we do know for a fact, that consuming more and more green vegetables are definitely a great way to improve your diet.

While these new findings may be a bit abstract for some kids to really sink their teeth into, it doesn’t change the fact there they give us all yet another reason to make sure get in our daily servings of green vegetables — even if they aren’t always our favorite thing on the menu.


  1. Li Y, Innocentin S, Withers DR, Roberts NA, Gallagher AR, Grigorieva EF, Wilhelm C, Veldhoen M. Green vegetables directly influence immune defences and help maintain intestinal health. BBSRC. 2011 October 13.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Mark P.

    We have a 6,000 sq. ft. organic garden in our back yard with a well and get a lot of dark greens. We also use a Vitamix to grind them into a drink.

  • lohasian

    Thanks for the good post. I agree. Just as humans and other animals have evolved over the eons, so to plants have the immune system. And while most of us may be surprised by the idea, plants are susceptible to all kinds of diseases. We may understand even less about it than our own. But it’s clear that their immune system benefits not only for the plants, be they flowers or trees but for us as well. And this finding is ready for our goodness, read more at my blog, thanks much.

  • Michelle

    I always enjoy reading about the benefits of fresh vegetables. It seems obvious, but so many people in the US don’t get enough of them. Also helps to remember that either raw or lightly steamed is the best way to prepare and consume them. Many of the vitamins in vegetables are water soluble and boiling too long will leach them out.

  • Joe

    Excellent Post.
    Very good site with interesting information. I always come to this site and I’m stuck for hours reading all this information.
    All you have to do with health care interests me in particular as regards juvenile arthritis disease.

  • Alex

    Another leafy green plant that can really boost you’re immune system. Green Tea although not a vegetable this tea is incredible to say the least. along with the benefits of lower cancer risk, improved blood flow, antioxidants etc. On 21 April 2003 the Brigham and Women’s Hospital released details of a research project which indicated that theanine may help the body’s immune system response when fighting infection, by boosting the disease-fighting capacity of gamma delta T cells. Meaning he production of anti-bacterial proteins was up to five times higher in the tea-drinkers, an indicator of a stronger immune response.

  • Debra

    I thought that this article was very informative. I already knew that vegetables are a great source of vitamins. However, I never knew that they can boost the immune system but it does make since.

  • Christine Mattice

    I just joined your site, and I love the information I’ve read so far. This article did not disappoint. :) Very interesting information. However, I have been trying to develop a taste for broccoli for YEARS. Can somebody tell me how to make this very health, dark green vegetable appealing to the tastebuds?

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