Antioxidants vs Free Radicals

Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, enzymes, or plant-derived nutrients called phytonutrients, found in food. They do what their name implies: ANTI-OXIDATION.

There are many known health benefits of antioxidant intake, including the following scientific examples:


* People with high beta-carotene intakes have about one-third the cancer risk as people with low beta-carotene intakes. (Peto R. Cancer Surveys 1983;2:327-340.)

* People with higher intakes of vitamin C have about half the risk for many types of cancer when compared to people with low vitamin C intakes. (Block G. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53:270S-282S.)

* People with the highest intakes of vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene have a significantly lower risk of lung cancer. (Yong LC et al. Am J Epidemiol 1997;146:231-43.)

* Men who took vitamin E supplements for 10 years or more had a 30% lower risk of bladder cancer. (Michaud DS et al. Am J Epidemiol 2000;152:1145-53.)

* There are over 66 studies showing cancer-prevention activity of green tea, black tea, and their constituents. These include cancer reduction in the skin, lung, oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, bladder, small intestine, colon and prostate. (Lambert JD et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:284S-291S.)

Heart Disease

* Elderly people who took both vitamin C and vitamin E supplements had a decreased risk of death from heart disease as well as overall mortality. (Losonczy KG, Harris TB, Havlik RJ. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;64:190-196.)

* Men who took vitamin supplements had a 70% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 50% lower risk of heart attack. (Meyer F, Bairati I, Dagenasis GR. Can J Cardiol 1996;12:930-934.)

* In the Nurses' Health Study involving over 87,000 women, there was a 41% reduction in risk of heart disease for those who took vitamin E for more than two years. (Stampfer MJ, Hennekens CH, Manson JE, et al. New Engl J Med 1993;328:1444-1449.)

* In the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study involving almost 40,000 men, there was a 37% reduction in risk of heart disease in men who took vitamin E for more than two years. The average intake in the lowest risk group was 400 IU per day. (Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ. Ascherio A, et al. New Engl J Med 1993;328:1450-1456.)

* The largest and longest study to date, done as part of the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, included almost 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were followed for 14 years. The higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared with those in the lowest category of fruit and vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30% less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke. (Joshipura KJ, et al. Ann Intern Med 2001 Jun 19;134(12):1106-14.)

Other Chronic diseases

* Several long-term studies have shown a reduced risk of cataracts in those who have taken vitamin C and/or vitamin E supplements for more than 10 years. (Jacques PF et al. Arch Ophthalmol 2001;119:1009-19.)

* The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) at NIH found that daily supplementation with antioxidants, zinc, and copper delayed progression of age-related macular degeneration. (AREDS report no. 8. Arch Ophthalmol 2001;119:1417-36.)

* Research has shown a significant relationship between flavonoid intakes and the occurrence of asthma. (Knekt P et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:560-8.)

* In a study on Alzheimer's disease, high levels of vitamin E delayed progression of the disease. (Sano M et al. N Engl J Med 1997;336:1216-22.)

Why anti-oxidize?

Oxidation is a natural process of aging: the browning of an apple core exposed to air, or rust on metal.

According to Dr. Ray Strand , a world's authority on cellular nutrition and nutritional medicine, "our body is no different. We age mostly because we 'oxidize'. Our bodies 'rust' on the inside due to oxidation."

Antioxidants resist that process by neutralizing free radicals. They protect the body from wear and tear by strengthening the immune system, muscles, bones, and skin.

Free radicals are molecules with a missing (unpaired) electron.

Free radicals scavenge around and 'steal' an electron from a 'healthy' molecule. This process is known as oxidation.

Free radical activity accompanies ALL DISEASE.

Any form of disease is preceded by high free radical activity that is not effectively controlled by antioxidants. See the right side bar for details.

So, why anti-oxidize?

To protect our system against disease and aging.

Sources of Free Radicals

There are a certain number of free radicals produced when we simply metabolize our food. However, there are many other things that spur free radical production:

* Processed, overcooked, leftover foods
* Sugar, and sugary foods
* Stress
* Excessive exercise
* Pollutants in our air, food, and water
* Alcohol
* Extended sun exposure
* Radiation
* Medication
* Cigarette smoke

Because of our stressful lifestyles, polluted environment, and over-medicated societies, this generation must contend with more free radicals than any previous generation.

This leads to a problem known as oxidative stress, which is another phrase for Oxidation.

Oxidative Stress

This is when we produce more free radicals than we can manage to neutralize. Oxidative stress is literally the dark side of oxygen.

What to do to prevent it

We need to have enough antioxidants available to handle the number of free radicals produced.

The more antioxidants present in our body and diet, the less damage free radicals can cause.

Healthy Habit #12-8-1 Get a daily surplus
of antioxidants in your food.

Our body has the ability to make some of its own antioxidants.

However, many of them (like Vitamin C) have to be supplied by the diet. Most antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables.

The major vitamin antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, while selenium is the major mineral antioxidant.

Other commonly mentioned antioxidants are:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid;
- Grape Seed Extract;
- Gingko Biloba;
- Green and White Tea;
- Trace minerals: zinc, copper, magnesium, potassium;
- Co-Enzyme Q10.

However, a thorough examination of antioxidants and their importance to human health must include a much larger list of compounds potentially present in a healthy, varied diet (see the tables below).

Foods that contain the highest amounts of antioxidants:

* Berries: Acai berries (pronounced 'Ah-sigh-ee'), Goji berries, blueberries, and other kinds (blackberries, cranberries, boysenberries, elderberries, raspberries)

* Pomegranate (best in whole form, NOT juice)

* Tropical fruits (mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple)

* Sea Vegetables (Dulse, Hijiki, Kelp, Kombu, Nori, Akame, Wakame)

* Teas and Infusions (white, green, rooibos, yerba mate)

* Micro-Algae (chlorella, spirulina, blue green algae)

* Green Leafy Vegetables (chard, kale, spinach, collards, other greens)

* Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)

* Grasses (wheatgrass, barley, parsley, cilantro, dill)

* Sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, radish, wheat berries, mung beans)


Phytonutrient antioxidants present in a healthy diet:

Allyl Sulfides ---- Onions, garlic, leeks, chives

Carotenoids (e.g. lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin) ---- Tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, kale, spinach

Curcumin ---- Turmeric

Flavonoids (e.g. anthocyanadins, resveratrol, quercitin, catechins) ---- Grapes, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, apples, grapefruit, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries

Glutathione ---- Green Leafy Vegetables

Indoles ---- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy

Isoflavones ---- Legumes (peas, soybeans)

Isothiocyanates (e.g. sulforaphane) ---- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy

Lignans ---- Seeds (flax seeds, sunflower seeds)

Monoterpenes ---- Citrus fruit peels, cherries, nuts

Phytic Acid ---- Whole grains, legumes

Phenols, polyphenols, phenolic compounds (e.g. ellagic acid, ferrulic acid, tannins) ---- Grapes, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, tea

Saponins ---- Beans, Legumes

If you feel that you may not get enough on a daily basis, adding nutritional supplements to your diet can be critical to your sense of well-being and overall health.

Healthy Habit #12-8-2 Take antioxidant supplements
if you don't get enough of them from food,
or have a high degree of oxidative stress.

Remember it is all about balance. To avoid oxidative stress, you want enough antioxidants to handle the free radicals produced.

Make sure that the supplements are of high quality: The manufacturer adheres by the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) standards, or better yet, by pharmaceutical standards, which ensures the quality, purity, and dissolution of the supplements.

Free radical protection is the main reason to take nutritional supplements, but not the only reason. View the page on Detoxification, where Antioxidants also play a big role.

More Reasons for Vitamins and Minerals

1. Free Radical Protection;

2. Detoxification;

3. Nutritional deficiencies due to dietary choices, depleted soil and food, green harvesting (fruits and vegetables are picked way before ripe), and long-distance shipping, poor storage, processing, and poor food preparation methods.

4. Reduce Inflammation (allergies, etc.)

5. See the side bar for other health conditions benefiting from Antioxidant intake.

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are based upon the opinions, research, and experiences of Surya (Slava Kolpakov), unless otherwise noted. The information on this website is not intended to treat, prescribe, diagnose, or replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or yoga therapist and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.