What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients, found in the body and in fruits and vegetables, that help maintain health and protect cells against the effects of damaging free radicals. Research indicates there are health benefits from consuming antioxidant nutrients, which is one of the reasons the government encourages people to eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables a day.
Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A and other substances.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.
Bryce B. Wylde
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
The subject of human health is almost unimaginably vast, and our body’s interactions with our surroundings are almost too complex to grasp. Deep within every cell of our body there are chemicals that rob us of our health. But, even if we were able to round every one of them up and do them in, we’d be the ones to suffer in the end. Paradoxically and occasionally, some of these chemicals are essential to our health. These chemicals are called “free radicals.” They’re notorious these days and almost everyone has heard their name. If it were the Wild West, then wanted posters would appear regularly advertising methods for their capture and execution.

A great deal remains to be conveyed about the behaviour of these chemicals and how we need to respond to that behaviour in order to stay healthy or to regain our health. Much of this hasn’t been conveyed, in part because it’s a breaking science story. But, the molecules that neutralize free radicals -- called antioxidants -- are supposed to be on our side in this battle. But, are they the cure-alls they’re made out to be? Are some antioxidants better than others? Can we swallow too many antioxidants? If you think that with careful living you can avoid all sources of oxidative stress, think again! In fact, simply living and breathing day to day is a primary source of free radical accumulation in the body. That’s why we creatures have evolved an internal cellular antioxidant capacity -- an “antioxidant armour” -- that can neutralize free radicals. But our internal capacity to neutralize this metabolic, free radical exhaust is not enough.

Day-to-day metabolism, toxic exposure, stress, and poor diet, among other factors, seems to cause the creation of more damaging free radicals than there are antioxidants to clean them up. Our bodies need help, and if they don’t get it, we pay the price in ill health. 

In the end, antioxidants that come from brightly colored fruits and vegetables and evidence based supplements can help our bodies prevent disease.
Emilia Klapp
Nutrition & Dietetics
Antioxidants are compounds such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and lycopene that prevent or repair the cell damage free radicals cause. They neutralize the radicals by giving up their own electrons to these unstable atoms. Because they have many protective enzymes, they do not become free radicals themselves when they donate an electron, stopping the chain reaction of cell damage or oxidation. The body produces antioxidants naturally, but age, genes, nutrition, and stress all impact this production. We need to increase our levels of antioxidants particularly as we age by eating plenty of plant foods.
Joy Dubost, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Before we start discussing antioxidants, we first need to talk about free radicals since they go hand in hand. A basic definition of free radicals is unstable compounds that are looking to react or "connect" with anything in its presence. Free radicals are needed for normal functioning of our bodies. However, if our bodies produce or are exposed to too many free radicals, then our cells can be damaged. Overexposure of free radicals to our cells can overtime ultimately lead to various diseases. Antioxidants become so important because they can help combat free radicals and help provide protection from the harmful effects of free radicals. What is so key here is there needs to be a balance between free radicals and antioxidants for proper functioning of our bodies.

Fruits and vegetables are a great way to obtain numerous antioxidants. Research has also indicated that tea, coffee, grains, nuts, spices and many people's favorite, red wine and dark chocolate also contain high levels of antioxidants. What is important is that you consume a variety of these products to ensure you are receiving not just enough antioxidants but a variety of these different compounds.
William B. Salt II., MD
The main antioxidants are vitamin A, beta-carotene (a water-soluble precursor to vitamin A), vitamin E, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and the trace mineral selenium. These antioxidant vitamins can block the harmful effects of free radicals before cellular damage occurs. Population studies and clinical trials show lower rates of cancer and heart disease in populations eating foods high in antioxidant vitamins.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection: 8 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functiona (The Mind-Body Connection Series)

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection: 8 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functiona (The Mind-Body Connection Series)

One in five people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, or other functional bowel disorders. As a result, irritable bowel syndrome is the second leading cause of worker absenteeism. This...
Jill Weisenberger
Nutrition & Dietetics
Antioxidants are the bodyguards for your cells. The president’s bodyguard jumps in front of him to take the bullet meant to harm the president. Antioxidants do the same thing for your DNA, cell membranes and other parts of your cells. Antioxidants allow themselves to be destroyed while protecting the cell from damaging compounds. Some well-known antioxidants are beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, but there are many more. We need a steady supply of antioxidants from our food because we are continuously exposed to harmful compounds. You will get ample antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. Tea and coffee are also good sources. 

You can learn more about antioxidants in this article: 40 Ways to Eat More Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances found in foods -- especially fruits and vegetables -- that help protect your cells from damage. Studies have shown that foods with antioxidants can help protect your heart from disease.

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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.