What Is Antioxidants Good For In The Body – Last updated June 2023 | This article was edited and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD
Your body’s cells face threats every day. Viruses and infections attack them. Free radicals can also damage your cells and DNA. Some cells can heal from damage, while others cannot. Scientists believe that molecules called free radicals may contribute to the aging process. They may also play a role in certain health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
- 1 What Is Antioxidants Good For In The Body
- 2 What Are Antioxidants, And How Much Of Them Should You Be Eating?
- 3 Endometriosis Diet: Antioxidants As A Natural Remedy For Endometriosis — Heal Endo
What Is Antioxidants Good For In The Body
Antioxidants are substances that help stop or limit damage caused by free radicals. Your body uses antioxidants to balance free radicals. This prevents damage to other cells. Antioxidants can protect and reverse some damage. They also strengthen your immunity.
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There are things you can do to help fight free radicals and reduce the damage they cause. You can quit smoking, stay in the sun safely, and eat a healthy diet. Antioxidants can also help. Your body produces some antioxidants. The best way to get extra antioxidants is through certain foods and vitamins. Common antioxidants include:
You can get most of these antioxidants from a healthy diet. It includes a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables. Whole grains, seeds and nuts also provide good nutrients.
Each antioxidant has a different chemical composition. Each one offers different health benefits. Too much of one antioxidant can be harmful. Consult your doctor before changing your diet or taking supplements.
Doctors recommend eating a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables. Many products contain natural antioxidants. It also contains important minerals, fiber and other vitamins. A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of certain diseases. However, antioxidants alone do not prevent chronic diseases.
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Some people choose to take antioxidant supplements. However, many are not balanced. They are also not approved or regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the ingredients listed on the bottle and the recommended dosage may not be correct.
Your body responds to antioxidants in different ways. Some may cause health risks or have a negative effect on your health. For example, smokers are at risk of lung cancer. Taking high doses of beta-carotene can increase the risk of this disease. Antioxidants can also interact with certain medications.
Consult your doctor before taking large doses of antioxidants. They will help you decide which supplements, if any, are right for you.
This information is a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your GP to find out if this information applies to you and to find out more about this topic. Often used as a marketing buzzword, learn about the role of antioxidants beyond advertising and some research into health and disease prevention. .
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The trillions or so of cells in the body face enormous threats, from food shortages to virus infection. Another constant threat comes from chemicals called free radicals. At very high levels, they are capable of damaging cells and genetic material. The body produces free radicals as inevitable byproducts of converting food into energy. Free radicals are also produced after exercise or exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution and sunlight. 
Free radicals come in different shapes, sizes and chemical configurations. They all share a voracious appetite for electrons, stealing them from any nearby matter that produces them. This electron theft can radically change the structure or function of the “loser”. Free radical damage can alter the instructions encoded in the DNA strand. This can make circulating low-density lipoprotein (LDL, sometimes called bad cholesterol) the likely parent molecule to become trapped in the artery wall. Or it can alter the cell membrane, changing the flow that enters and leaves the cell. A chronic excess of free radicals in the body causes a condition called oxidative stress, which can damage cells and lead to chronic disease. 
We are not immune to free radicals. The body, long accustomed to this merciless onslaught, produces many molecules that extinguish free radicals as surely as water extinguishes fire. We also extract free radical fighters from food. These protectors are labeled “antioxidants.” They generously donate electrons to free radicals without becoming electron scavengers themselves. They are also involved in mechanisms that repair DNA and maintain cell health.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of different substances that can act as antioxidants. The best known of them are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and other similar carotenoids, together with the minerals selenium and manganese. They combine glutathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens and more. Most of them occur naturally and their presence in food probably prevents oxidation or is a natural defense against the local environment.
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But using the term “antioxidant” to refer to substances is misleading. It is really a chemical property, namely the ability to act as an electron donor. Some substances that act as antioxidants in one situation can be pro-oxidants – electron scavengers – in another situation. Another big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable. They are not. Each has unique chemical behavior and biological properties. They almost certainly evolved as parts of complex networks in which each different substance (or family of substances) played a slightly different role. This means that no one substance can do the work of the whole crowd.
Antioxidants rose to public attention in the 1990s, when researchers began to realize that free radical damage is the initial stage of artery-clogging atherosclerosis. It was also linked to cancer, vision loss and many other chronic diseases. Some studies have shown that people who consume little antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables have a higher risk of developing these chronic diseases than people who eat a lot of these foods. Clinical trials began to test the effects of individual supplements, especially beta-carotene and vitamin E, in combating chronic diseases.
Even before the results of these trials were known, the media and the supplement and food industry began promoting the benefits of “antioxidants.” Frozen berries, green tea and other foods marked as rich in antioxidants began to appear on store shelves. Supplement makers touted the disease-fighting properties of all sorts of antioxidants.
Research results were mixed, but most did not find the expected benefits. Most research groups report that vitamin E and other antioxidant supplements do not protect against heart disease or cancer.  One study even showed that taking beta-carotene supplements increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. On the other hand, some studies reported benefits; For example, after 18 years of follow-up, the Physicians’ Health Study found that taking beta-carotene supplements was associated with modest reductions in rates of cognitive decline. 
What Are Antioxidants, And How Much Of Them Should You Be Eating?
These mostly disappointing results have not stopped food manufacturers or supplement vendors from buying antioxidants. Antioxidants are still added to breakfast cereals, sports bars, energy drinks and other processed foods and are touted as additives that can prevent heart disease, cancer, cataracts, memory loss and other diseases.
Often the claims have stretched and distorted the data: while it’s true that a package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent a variety of chronic diseases, it’s unlikely that high doses of antioxidant supplements can achieve the same feat.
Some foods achieved “superfood” status due to their high antioxidant content. In 1991, researchers at the National Institute on Aging and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created an assessment tool called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). It was used to measure the antioxidant capacity of foods. The USDA provided an ORAC database on its website that highlights foods with high ORAC scores, including cocoa, berries, spices and legumes. Blueberries and other foods that top the list were touted in the popular press as fighting diseases, even when the science was weak, for everything from cancer to brain health to heart disease. But 20 years later, the USDA retracted the information and removed the database after discovering that antioxidants have many functions, not all of which are related to free radical activity. 
Randomized, placebo-controlled trials, which may provide the strongest evidence, offer little support that taking vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, or other single antioxidants offers significant protection against heart disease, cancer, or other chronic diseases. The results of the largest trials have been mostly negative.
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Supplemental vitamin E, beta-carotene and other antioxidants are not the silver bullet for fighting heart disease and stroke that researchers had hoped for. Some studies have found a modest effect of vitamin E, but more research is needed.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Respiratory Research found that different isoforms of vitamin E (called tocopherols) have opposite effects on lung function.  The study analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) cohort and measured serum alpha- and gamma-tocopherol levels in 4,526 adults. Lung function was tested using spirometric parameters: higher parameters indicate an increase in lung function, while lower parameters indicate a decrease in lung function. The study showed that there was a higher level of serum alpha-tocopherol
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