Antioxidants, Free Radicals and Their Relationship



Antioxidant foods and antioxidant vitamins are currently hot topics. Free radicals and free radical damage aren’t as well understood. What are they and what do they have to do with your health?

In order to understand the health benefits of antioxidants it is important to know that they are major players on the first line of defence against free radical damage.


What Are Free Radicals

Free radicals – oxygen molecules that have mismatched pairs of electrons.  They are created naturally in the body by:

  • exercise
  • inflammation
  • mitochondria
  • ischemia

Created externally by

  • environmental toxins
  • cigarette smoke
  • ozone
  • ultraviolet light
  • drugs
  • pesticides

Lack of matched electrons causes free radicals to move about the body creating havoc as they try and steal electrons from other molecules.  Free radicals are implicated in many diseases

  • cancer
  • atherosclerosis
  • cataracts
  • aging
  • endothelial cell injury

All free radicals should not be destroyed. The body uses these molecules to defend itself against pathogenic microbes. An overabundance of free radicals with too few antioxidants will cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress causes chronic damage to tissue.Blog-peppers

What are Antioxidants

Antioxidants are molecules stable enough to donate an electron to a free radical and neutralize it.  Antioxidants include vitamins E and C and carotenoids. Vitamins,  certain colour rich foods, teas and dark chocolate are  sources of antioxidants.

Green tea benefits include the presence of EGCG, a member of the catechin family. Green tea benefits include:

  • cancer
  • atherosclerosis
  • tooth decay


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Antioxidant Foods

Red, yellow and orange pigments in plant  foods like fruit and vegetables are carotenoids. The body cannot produce this substance and must ingest it from an external source.  Beta Carotene can be found in carrots, strawberries, egg yolks peppers and a number of other foods.  Low levels of b-carotene in adipose tissue has been shown in studies to be a contributing factor in myocardial infarction in people who smoke.

Treatment of various pre-cancerous lesions with b-carotene has shown these lesions to regress.  Studies have shown that b-carotene can be useful in the prevention of stomach and breast cancer.

Beta carotene supplements are available but there is controversy about whether or not they actually increase the risk of certain cancers. Increase b-carotene in the body through the consumption of highly coloured vegetables and fruits.  The recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables is 5 servings. Juices have less b-carotene and other antioxidants than whole fruits and vegetables.


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Antioxidant Vitamins

Antioxidant vitamins include vitamin E and vitamin C. Water soluble, vitamin C interacts with the free radicals within the water compartment of cells and the fluid between the cells.  Vitamin C is important for extracellular fluids.

Vitamin E is generated by Vitamin C  and its interaction with the tocopheroxyl radical.  Diseases Vitamin C is  important  for include:

  • cancer
  • arthritis
  • coronary artery disease  (vitamin C assists in keeping vascular walls toned and functioning.)
  • aging.

Many studies have reported the protective effects of consuming fruit and vegetables.

Vitamin E like b-carotene cannot be manufactured by the body and must come from an external source. Vitamin E is the principal antioxidant in the body.  It has a protective effect on polyunsaturated fatty acids in the cell membranes.  It can work at high oxygen pressures which cause free radicals to be scavenged and tissue damage to be minimized.

Vitamin E is an effective anti-aging compound.  It is found in many anti-aging cosmetic formulas.  Vitamin E can protect against

  • cancer
  • ischemia
  • arthritis
  • some neurological disorders

Some free radicals are needed to fight against disease most are not.  By getting 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day a person can help to protect themselves against disease and aging.