What is an antioxidant?

If you are wondering what is an antioxidant then this article will explain it to you.

I’m going to try and explain this in “human terms”, that is, something a person who doesn’t have a background in chemistry should understand.

This is pretty complex stuff, though, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple.

Many of us have heard antioxidants mentioned a gazillion times. Apparently fruit and vegetables are full of them, and they’re claimed to help prevent disease and delay aging.
A picture of What Is An Antioxidant
I am not going to go to try and validate or dismiss any of these claims here (I might do so in a later blog post), but rather talk about what antioxidants actually are, and how they work on the molecular level.

I’d like to mention right away though that I do not recommend supplementing with antioxidants since it might actually cause more harm than good. Getting them through food is great though.

Alright, let’s start at the beginning.

Atoms and molecules

All substance in life, our bodies, our cars and the grass outside is made of atoms and molecules. Atoms are the smallest unit, while molecules are composed of two or more atoms. Some organic molecules like proteins and DNA are composed of millions of molecules.

This is a diagram of some simple molecules:
A picture of Molecules

And this is a diagram of an atom:
A picture of an Atom

As you can see, the atom consists of charged particles. In the core, there are positively charged protons and circling around the core are negatively charged electrons.

There are also uncharged particles known as neutrons in the core.

The chemical reactions in the body

The way humans and all other organisms maintain their structure and function is by metabolic reactions.

In metabolic reactions, some bigger molecules are broken down into smaller molecules, and other smaller molecules organized into bigger molecules.

Some reactions specifically act to extract energy from substances, such as when we metabolize glucose.

Free radicals are created in the cells

A side effect of many of these chemical reactions, is that molecules called free radicals can be created.

These molecules are unstable, and can react with other organic molecules and damage them, and possibly cause a chain reaction of further free radical creation and damage.

This is where antioxidants step in. If a free radical was created by losing an electron, the antioxidant molecule steps in and supplies the free radical with another electron, neutralizing it.

A picture of a Free Radical

This is how antioxidants can prevent damage to cells at the molecular level.

Antioxidants come in many forms

There are many types of antioxidants and they can be divided into two main categories: water-soluble and lipid-soluble.

Water-soluble antioxidants perform their actions in the cellular fluid, while lipid-soluble ones protect the cell membranes.

Some are obtained through diet, while others are created within the body.

Examples of those that need to be obtained through diet are Vitamin E (lipid soluble) and Vitamin C (water soluble). An example of one that is created within cells is Glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant.

Antioxidants, as well as the reactions they affect, are extremely complex. They interact with each other too.

Conclusion

I’d like to mention again that I do NOT recommend supplementing with antioxidants, since studies have shown that it isn’t beneficial and may even be downright harmful in some cases.

It is best to obtain them through diet, and foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and even tea and coffee are loaded with them.

By now you should know what is an antioxidant. I hope I managed to make this understandable, but if something is unclear then you are welcome to ask a question in the comment section below.


 

42 Comments

  1. Shrikant says:

    You have provided a simple, easily understandable and effective write up on antioxidants. So nicely explained that I am now able to explain it to my friends comfortably. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, I’m glad you liked it :)

  3. abigail says:

    thanks Kris!

  4. Hi Kris,

    Great post on antioxidants! You really do hear a lot about them, especially how good they are for anti aging purposes. You make a great point too, in mentioning that most of the antioxidants you should get should be through food. I shared this on my Twitter and FB page too (http://facebook.com/toxicbeautyblog. :-)

    Robin

  5. Thanks Robin,

    I like your blog and I think this is a topic that doesn’t get mentioned enough. It’s not enough for us to only try and avoid the artificial substances in food, they’re really all around us and especially in cosmetics.

    I know of some substances in skin creams, shampoos and such that can actually be absorbed through the skin. Pretty bad stuff.

  6. Hi,

    I went to 20 website to try to figure out what anti-oxidants are and I’m glad i came across you r site and diet solution looks like the real deal.
    Just tel me what happens when anti-oksidant is to damage your cells way is that and what happens?

  7. Hello Simon,

    Antioxidants can cause microscopic damage to cells and their structures, but usually it is repaired right away without consequences. Our cells and DNA get damaged all the time, but we have very sophisticated repair mechanisms.

    It can happen though, that the damage is permanent and can lead to disease, such as when damaged DNA contributes to cancer, or oxidized cholesterol contributes to heart disease.

  8. Hi ,
    really u have given a good brief about antioxidant.

    Thanx,
    nitin gupta

  9. thank you for the answer

    just for interest haw much tee must a man drink to get the right amount of ant oxidants to give the body the right amount bv: a mans weight 100kg 1.9 height

  10. Simon,

    I wouldn’t stress about it. Just eat some fresh fruits and vegetables every day and you should be good to go. Drink a few cups of green tea per week and that will be even better.

  11. Hi
    Thank you for your explanation. Beautifully explained!! I have a question, someone told me to have a spoon of cider vinegar each morning as it’s really good for you and loaded with anti-oxidants!! I know you explained that it’s not beneficial and can be harmful if taken as supplement. So is taking teaspoon of cider vinegar harmful??

  12. Hey Saj,
    I haven’t really done a lot of research on cider vinegar but I know a lot of people believe in it.

    I honestly don’t think it will be harmful at all, may even be beneficial. Just make sure it is of a high quality: the less processed, the better.

  13. Would you recommend the Green Tea Supplements? I have been reading a lot about them and people seems to favor them.

  14. Kathy, I’m fond of Green Tea and the extracts should provide similar benefits, although there is absolutely no need at all to mega dose on antioxidants.

  15. hi Chris, i’m eating n lot of fruits now, and do the tea thing and must say,i don’t know on cellular level but iv lost weight and feel good,and my metabolism is going good.

    ps :My dad had prostate cancer they removed it all?but now i would like to help him maintain good health,will anti antioxidants help fight agents cancer?or not that much?

  16. Simon, I’m not sure if the antioxidants themselves will help prevent cancer, but they might. Eating healthy, exercising, avoiding smoking will probably help as well.

    If you’re looking for supplements that may help, then I recommend you look into Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2.

    • hi Chris, will look for those vitamins and make sure he get them,at the moment we gym together he is 64 so at least he is trying.as far as i know the free radicals that is unstable is cancer?and the antioxidants neutralizes them?hope it helps?

      • Hey Simon, oxidation is one of many things that can lead to cancer in the long term. I don’t know if the antioxidants will help at this point.

        But they might do a little bit of good, so have your father take them if it makes you feel better. You really should discuss this with your father’s doctor though.

    • Kris; is vitamin K2 more important for women? I ask because I know of at least one men’s formula that does not contain K2, whereas their women’s formula does.

  17. thank you will do

  18. Tosin Pius says:

    When, how and how long can someone be placed on beta-carotene diet or suplement?

  19. OLUWOLE OLUYINKA O. DAVID says:

    Hi Kris,
    Your explanation is quite explicit. That’s a great job.
    Please, do you think antioxidants can inhibit or interfere with antimalaria therapy in the body?

  20. really so simple to understand things
    thanks

  21. i never understood antioxidants when i was thought in the lecture hall when i was in the university.thanks cris, i can now explain it to my freinds and families.

  22. Would like to know the ideal number of Green Tea cups per week ? I usually consume 2 to 3 large cups of Green tea per day, is it good enough?

  23. Tosin Pius says:

    Good, I like this!

  24. JYOTI GUPTA says:

    dear kris,
    your article is good, but i would appreciate, if you explain more scientifically about “what is antioxidant?” &
    more specifically,”flavonoid as an antioxidant”

  25. Jessica says:

    This is great! You have done a wonderful job in explaining what it actually means. Thank you very much!

  26. Hi kirs, Thanks for your article it was very simple and i was able to understand what you were putting across. I would like to know if antioxidants can be used for cancer treatments and if so I would appreciate if I could get one use

  27. hi kriss
    i have understood what an antioxident is i have a realy bad skin problem
    due to a alergey from medicene it has been going for 2 years now everything has healed apart from my feet what can i eat that is rich in antioxidents to help my skin
    im a coffee drinker i love fruit i eat lots of please let me know if you can help
    with anithing
    thankyou zenib

  28. Hi Kris
    I wanted to ask you about antioxidant supplements as you say not to take them. Do the studies that say they can cause harm refer to synthetic vitamins and minerals like vitamin’s A, C and E?

    Surely taking the naturally sourced vitamins would be beneficial wouldn’t they? And what about substances such as grape seed extract, alpha lipoic acid, curcumin, astaxanthin, resveratrol etc. Are these not beneficial to take? Not to excess of course.

    Thanks Kris. Been reading quite a bit of your blog recently.

    • Hey David.

      You would have to look at each supplement/antioxidant separately. I’m sure some of them are beneficial (like Curcumin) while others aren’t.

  29. Hello Kris

    I can hardly believe that you actually answered so many strangers questions for nothing. God bless u.
    My question : I have a 70% block but no symptomatic chest pains. I have been advised to consume the water from dried pomegranate seeds as an antioxidant and have been doing it faithfully for the last two months.
    You have mentioned – let the consumption of anitoxidants be from a natural source – am I doing it right? I would greatly appreciate your opinion. My whole family is doing this and would like to know.
    Thanks
    Samy

    • Hello Samy. I’d say that classifies as a natural source.

      Just be aware that fruit juices can contain a similar amount of sugar as sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

  30. Hi Kris
    Thank you for the advice.
    Samy

  31. Thank u sooo much. Actually, I am working on antioxidant activity of medicinal plant, the technique of antioxidant is very clear to me now. Stay Blessed.

  32. Hi Kris

    Thanks for this explanation. What about claims made regarding high antioxidant in mangosteen juice? Do you have a view, opinion and or suggestion on whether products such as these are helpful?

    • I have never heard of mangosteen juice before, so I can’t really comment on it.

      Generally, I would avoid all fruit juices as they tend to have a high concentration of fructose, which can be harmful.

Speak Your Mind

*