Antioxidants can prevent or slow cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures. They can increase the risk of inflammation and various health issues.
They are sometimes called “free-radical scavengers.”
The sources of antioxidants can be natural or artificial. Certain plant-based foods are thought to be rich in antioxidants. Plant-based antioxidants are a kind of phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient.
The body also producesTrusted Source some antioxidants, known as endogenous antioxidants. Antioxidants that come from outside the body are called exogenous.
Free radicals are waste substances produced by cellsTrusted Source as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. This can harm cells and body function. Free radicals are also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Factors that increase the production of free radicals in the body can be internal, such as inflammation, or external, for example, pollution, UV exposure, and cigarette smoke.
Oxidative stress has been linkedTrusted Source to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, Parkinson’s disease, and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions.
Antioxidants are said to help neutralize free radicals in our bodies, and this is thought to boost overall health.
Share on PinterestColorful fruits and vegetables can offer a range of antioxidants.
Antioxidants can protect against the cell damage that free radicals cause, known as oxidative stress.
Activities and processes that can lead to oxidative stress
- mitochondrial activity
- excessive exercise
- tissue trauma, due to inflammation and injury
- ischemia and reperfusion damage
- consumption of certain foods, especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives
- environmental pollution
- exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, including chemotherapy
- industrial solvents
Such activities and exposures can result in cell damage.
This, in turn, may lead to:
- an excessive release of free iron or copper ions
- an activation of phagocytes, a type of white blood cell with a role in fighting infection
- an increase in enzymes that generate free radicals
- a disruption of electron transport chains
All these can result in oxidative stress.
The damage caused by oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, and vision loss. It is thought that the free radicals cause changes in the cells that lead to these and possibly other conditions.
An intake of antioxidants is believed to reduce these risks.
According to one studyTrusted Source: “Antioxidants act as radical scavenger, hydrogen donor, electron donor, peroxide decomposer, singlet oxygen quencher, enzyme inhibitor, synergist, and metal-chelating agents.”
Other research that antioxidant supplements may help reduce vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration in older people.