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Antioxidants are nutrients that help minimize free-radical damage to the body. Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that are created in the body during normal metabolic functions or introduced from the environment, such as by exposure to pollution and other toxins. Inherently unstable, free radicals contain “extra” energy which they try to reduce by reacting with certain chemicals in the body, which interferes with the cells’ ability to function normally. Antioxidants combat free radicals in several ways: they may reduce the energy of the free radical, stop the free radical from forming in the first place, or interrupt an oxidizing chain reaction to minimize the damage caused by free radicals.
Consuming a wide variety of antioxidant enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and herbs may be the best way to provide the body with the most complete protection against free-radical damage.
Free radicals are believed to play a role in more than sixty different health conditions, including the aging process, cancer, and atherosclerosis.1 Reducing exposure to free radicals and increasing intake of antioxidant nutrients has the potential to reduce the risk of free radical-related health problems.
Oxygen, although essential to life, is the source of the potentially damaging free radicals. Free radicals are also found in the environment. Environmental sources of free radicals include exposure to ionizing radiation (from industry, sun exposure, cosmic rays, and medical X-rays), ozone and nitrous oxide (primarily from automobile exhaust), heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, and lead), cigarette smoke (both active and passive), alcohol, unsaturated fat, and other chemicals and compounds from food, water, and air.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2017.