Cold and flu season is coming (cue the 1950s horror flick), and scientists are looking to a familiar hero to help boost immunity. Just in time for the cold weather, research published in the journal Cell suggests green veggies— specifically cruciferous vegetables, that is— could play a bigger role in improving immunity than previously thought.
Cells called intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) live in the skin and the lining of the intestines— two spots where the body is exposed to bacteria galore. These specialized cells are important in fighting off germs and also play a role in healing cuts and scrapes. The new research suggests the number of IELs in the skin and intestines can be regulated by diet— specifically, a compound found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cabbage. (Sorry, not all green vegetables count.)
Researchers were surprised to find such a strong link between diet and IEL numbers, but they admit this study, conducted on mice, may not translate directly to humans. It’s also unclear from this preliminary study whether green veggies will help heal sniffles and coughs. And cruciferous vegetables could help prevent some types of irritable bowel disease thanks to the role of IELs in keeping the intestinal lining healthy. Until researchers conduct more conclusive studies, though, upping that broccoli intake couldn’t hurt.