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Antioxidants: A Brief Overview

Updated on February 4, 2018
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Srikanth is passionate about helping people stay healthy. He believes that consuming nutritious food is the key to a long and healthy life.

What Is Oxidation?

Human beings need oxygen to live, but oxidation is harmful. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in the body that involves oxygen. This reaction produces free radicals that damage cells, thereby causing many deadly diseases like cancer.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are natural or man-made molecules that protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. We all have both free radicals and antioxidants in our body. Many powerful antioxidants are found in plants.

Antioxidants First Received Public's Attention in the 1990s

Antioxidants first received public's attention in the 1990s, when research scientists began understanding how damage caused by free radicals contributes to health problems.

Antioxidant Is Not Just a Buzzword

Encouraged by new scientific findings and high consumer awareness, the antioxidant category developed quickly and has remained strong and vibrant ever since - proof that 'antioxidant' is not just a buzzword.

Antioxidants Come in Various Forms

Antioxidants are not created equal. They come in various forms - vitamins C and E, manganese, selenium, astaxanthin, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, etc. each with different effects on the body.

The human body is a very delicate machine and various substances, natural or man made are useful and beneficial to its ability to perform optimally. Amongst those substances are antioxidants.

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Antioxidants help to fight free radicals (unstable molecules) within the body. These unstable molecules can be generated by stress, general metabolism, poor diet, pollution, medication, smoking and alcohol, for example.... If these free radicals are not stabilised, they can lead to oxidation and cell damage, which could potentially lead to ageing and disease.

— Fiona Tuck, nutritionist

Antioxidants Come in Various Forms


Antioxidant Vitamins

Vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and folic acid are antioxidant vitamins. Since human body does not produce these vitamins, it is important to include foods containing them in your diet.

Foods Rich in Antioxidant Vitamins

Sweet potato, carrot, dark leafy greens, dried apricots and sweet red peppers contain vitamin A. Yellow bell peppers, guavas, kale, kiwifruit and broccoli are rich in vitamin C. Almonds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, mustard greens and hazelnuts are good sources of vitamin E. Citrus fruits, beans, cereals, rice and asparagus contain folic acid.

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Carrot Is Rich in Vitamin A


Each type of antioxidant has its own effect and benefit on the body. Vitamin A is found in milk, butter, eggs, dark leafy greens such as kale, and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots. Vitamin A offers many benefits including protecting eyesight and improving your immune system. Vitamin C is found in fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and tomatoes.... Vitamin E is found in nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds.

— Lexie Seherr-thoss, Dietetic Intern, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center

Antioxidant Mineral

Selenium, which is an important dietary mineral, displays antioxidant properties. It is the only antioxidant mineral. It converts natural hydrogen peroxide in the body to water. Brazil nut is an excellent source of selenium.

Brazil Nut Is Rich in Antioxidant Mineral Selenium


Antioxidant Proteins

PRDX6 or Peroxiredoxin-6 is a protein that is encoded by the PRDX6 gene. It is a member of the peroxiredoxin family of antioxidant enzymes.

Proteins Restrain Lipid Oxidation

Proteins can restrain lipid oxidation by biologically designed mechanisms or by nonspecific mechanisms. These antioxidative proteins contribute to the antioxidant capacity of foods.

Proteins As Antioxidant Additives

Proteins have excellent potential as antioxidant additives in foods due to their ability to inhibit lipid oxidation through multiple pathways including inactivation of reactive oxygen species, scavenging free radicals, chelation of prooxidative transition metals, and alteration of the physical properties of food systems.

Enhancing a Protein's Antioxidant Activity

A protein's overall antioxidant activity can be enhanced by disruption of its tertiary structure to increase the solvent accessibility of amino acid residues that can remove free radicals and chelate prooxidative metals.

Peptides Have Higher Antioxidant Activity Than Intact Proteins

The production of peptides through hydrolytic reactions seems to be the most promising technique to form proteinaceous antioxidants since peptides have higher antioxidant activity than intact proteins.

Health Benefits of Antioxidants

Antioxidant Enzymes

Antioxidant enzymes like glutathioneperoxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase metabolize oxidative toxic intermediates.

Antioxidant Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are produced by plants; in fact "phyto" means "plant". Experts are of the opinion that you can reduce the risk of cancer by around 40 percent by including foods containing certain phytochemicals.

Ellagic Acid, carotenoids, polyphenols, resveratrol, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, isothiocyanates and glucosinolates are examples of antioxidant phytochemicals.

Green Tea Is Loaded With Polyphenols


Antioxidant Hormones

Melatonin, the most powerful antioxidant in the world, is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. It increases effectiveness of lymphocytes, which defend the body against harmful diseases.

Classification Based On Solubility

Vitamin C
Vitamin E
Lipoic acid
Uric acid
Vitamin A
Some antioxidants are soluble in both water and fat.

How Do Antioxidants Work?

Antioxidants are integral to body's robust defence system. Human beings produce and ingest volatile molecules known as free radicals, which react with vital cellular components like DNA. These reactions have a negative impact on the normal functioning cells.

Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals by donating their electrons to free radicals, thereby preventing them from damaging cells.

Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can save you from your susceptibility to genetic diseases including brain disease and disorders. They protect us by stopping the activation of the disease-prone genes.

— Dr. Andrea Hornstein

Master Antioxidant

Many experts call glutathione (C10H17N3O6S‎) the master antioxidant. Glutathione is a tripeptide of cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. It prevents damage to important cellular components caused by free radicals, peroxides, lipid peroxides, and heavy metals. It is a cofactor for many enzymes.

Universal Antioxidant

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is generally believed to be the universal antioxidant. This water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidant is an antiaging powerhouse. It offers a multitude of metabolic health benefits.

Unit to Measure Antioxidant Content in Foods

ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is the unit to measure antioxidant content in foods. It was developed by the NIH in Baltimore.

10 High-Antioxidant Foods With Their ORAC Scores

Sl No
ORAC Score
Ground clove
Sumac bran
Ground cinnamon
Raw sorghum bran
Dried oregano
Ground turmeric
Freeze-dried acai berry
Black sorghum bran
Raw sumac grain
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Include these superfoods in your diet for a healthy life.

Clove Is an Antioxidant Powerhouse


Natural Sources of Antioxidants

Natural sources of antioxidants (other than the ones mentioned in the above table) include sage, yellow mustard seeds, ground ginger, black pepper, fresh thyme, fresh marjoram, goji berry, crude rice bran and chili powder.

"What is important to understand is that we can, and should, get plenty of these warriors from natural food sources, not supplements. Studies have shown antioxidant supplements increase health risks and interact with certain medications. Supplements can also give you too much of a concentrated source of one or more antioxidants while neglecting others. Most importantly, there are many other compounds in foods that improve both the absorption and function of antioxidants, compounds that cannot be replicated in supplements" wrote Melissa Wdowik in her article titled Wdowik: Antioxidants go to battle for your body. Melissa, PhD, RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.

With antioxidants, the rule of thumb is that fruits and vegetables with the deepest colors carry the highest levels of antioxidants.

— Dr. Andrea Hornstein

A Common Antioxidant to Delay Aging

In May 2017, research scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park uncovered methylene blue, an antioxidant that could delay skin aging.

Driven by increasing use in cosmetics, food, and pharmaceuticals, the global market for antioxidants is looking forward to rapid growth through 2022, with a CAGR of 4.2%, according to a report by BCC Research. The total market for antioxidants is forecast to reach $6.4 billion in 2022.

— BCC Research


  • Oxidation is dangerous.
  • Antioxidants prevent diseases.
  • Glutathione is the master antioxidant.
  • Clove is the best source of antioxidants.
  • ORAC is the unit to measure antioxidant content in foods.

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.

— Mahatma Gandhi

© 2017 Srikanth R


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    • srirad0675 profile image

      Srikanth R 11 months ago


    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 11 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Very nice, useful and informative article about Antioxidants! It is so easy to manage our Antioxidants requirements if we pay a little attention to what we are eating and what we should include.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • srirad0675 profile image

      Srikanth R 11 months ago

      Thank you for the information.

    • srirad0675 profile image

      Srikanth R 11 months ago

      Thank you.

    • Aelbarsha profile image

      Abdelhakim Elbarsha 11 months ago from Benghazi/Libya

      Thanks for this informative article. I would like to that coffee contains natural antioxidants, and is considered as a super antioxidant drink.

    • Vegas Elias profile image

      Vegas Elias 11 months ago from Mumbai

      Very informative and useful article. I have shared it on my Facebook page.