What are Antioxidants?

In Natural Medicine by Marvin Francis

What are antioxidants? They are natural compounds that help protect the body from harmful free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or group of atoms that can cause damage to cells, impairing the immune system and leading to infections and various degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Anti-oxidants therefore plays a beneficial role in the prevention of disease. Free radical damage is thought by scientists to be the basis for the aging process as well.

There are a number of known free radicals that occur in the body, the most common of which are oxygen-derived free radicals, hypo chloride radicals, hydrogen peroxide, various lipid peroxides, and nitric oxide. They may be formed by exposure to toxic chemicals such as those found in cigarette smoke, polluted air, and industrial and household chemicals; and various metabolic processes, such as the process of breaking down stored fat molecules for use as an energy source.

Free radical are normally kept in check by the actions of free radical scavengers that occurs naturally in the body. These scavengers neutralize the free radicals. Certain enzymes serve this vital function. Four important enzymes that neutralize free radicals are superoxide dismutase (SOD), methionine reductase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase.

There are also a number of phytochemicals and nutrients that acts as antioxidants, including vitamin C and E, and the mineral selenium.

Although many antioxidants can be obtained from food sources such as sprouted grain and fresh fruits and vegetables, it is difficult to get enough of them from these sources to hold back the free radicals constantly being generated in our polluted environment. We can minimize free radical damage by taking supplements of key nutrients. A high intake of antioxidant nutrients appears to be especially protective against cancer.

Antioxidant works synergistically in giving protection against free radical damage, so it is better to take smaller dose of several different antioxidants than a large amount of only one. For example, while beta-carotene by itself is an excellent antioxidant, a mix of natural carotenoids provides more health benefits than beta-carotene alone.