Vitamin C has long been known as a key nutrient for a healthy immune system. New research sheds light on just why and how vitamin C is so essential for healthy immune function — more than scientists had ever realized.

Vitamin C helps stabilize T cell function when it interacts with regulatory T cells and the TET enzymes which can help promote the reversal of the DNA methylation that accompanies cellular aging. T cells are a type of blood cell that are essential for targeting invasive cells like bacteria and viruses. You may be familiar with T cells because of their role in HIV infection — HIV kills off T cells, lowering immunity and leaving people vulnerable to opportunistic infection that can develop into AIDS, the advanced stage of HIV infection.

In addition to boosting immunity, T cells also help regulate inflammation. Regulatory T cells, commonly known as Tregs, are so important for immune function that scientists are trying to devise a way to synthesize T cells (called iTregs) for use in immunotherapies. These treatments could be used to help organ transplant patients, as well as people with autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C is to go for the most bioavailable options — dietary sources like fruits and vegetables.

The new breakthrough with regard to vitamin C, by researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the University of California, San Diego, may give scientists a leg up on this process because of its apparent stabilizing effects on Tregs. Vitamin C, together with a class of enzymes called TETs, helps boost tregs’ stability and, therefore, their ability to fight infection. In the research, vitamin C bolstered TETs’ enzymatic activity, which in turn enhanced Tregs’ stability.

Before working towards applying this new knowledge to novel therapies, scientists wanted to be sure they understood the full range of epigenetic changes that were possible from introducing iTregs to the body’s systems.

“We wanted to study the entire system at a whole genome level using next generation sequencing technology to better understand the molecular features of these cells,” study co-author, Xiaojing Yue, of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, said in a statement.

Given its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin C has many other health benefits. Vitamin C is known to prevent skin wrinkles, to prevent cardiovascular disease and bolster eye health.

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C is go for the most bioavailable options — dietary sources like fruits and vegetables, though there are also high-quality, vitamin C supplements available on the market.

This study is published in the journal, EMBO Reports.