What is the role of antioxidants in the body?

David B. Agus, MD
Hematology & Oncology

We think of antioxidants as great protectors against damaging free radicals. In this video, cancer specialist and author Dr. David Agus explains why the truth is more complicated.

Patricia Farris, MD
Antioxidants are nature's way of protecting the body and cells from damaging free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are generated by sun exposure, stress and as part of the natural aging process. Free radicals damage cells, DNA and collagen. The body has a complex system of natural antioxidants to fight free radicals. There are vitamin antioxidants including vitamin C, A and E as well as enzyme antioxidants. These two types of antioxidants work together mopping up free radical as they are produced. 

Sun exposure depletes naturally occuring antioxidants. This is why dermatologists will often prescribe a topical antioxidant cream or lotion to protect the skin during the day. Some favorites are co-enzyme Q10, idebenone, green tea, vitamin C, ferulic acid and vitamin E. By apply antioxidant creams daily you can further protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun. These creams are used in addition to sunscreen.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Antioxidants in certain foods -- green tea, olive oil, blueberries, salmon or sunflower seeds -- act like superhero nutrients in the body. They extinguish toxic oxygen molecules known as free radicals, the bad byproducts of cell renewal that are also produced by pollution and sun damage.

Antioxidants may turn out to be even more powerful defenders than we thought, and researchers are studying their potential as cancer fighters and UV protectors. Scientific studies seem to come out every day, touting the near-miraculous sun-protective and cancer- preventive benefits of antioxidant compounds in everything from pomegranates to red wine. The polyphenols in green tea have been proven to protect the DNA in skin cells in mice from UV damage, to protect skin against sunburns, and possibly to help prevent basal and squamous cell carcinomas. In a National Cancer Institute study done at the University of Illinois, the antioxidant compound resveratrol (found in cranberries, red wine, and grapes) inhibited the development of cancers in mice. (The antioxidant's beneficial effects on humans are still uncertain.) Antioxidant compounds found in pomegranates have also shown a great ability to inhibit tumor production and growth. A study published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that vitamin C and E supplements taken for three months significantly reduced sunburns and sun damage.
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.