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Antioxidants

Related Terms

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Background

  • Antioxidants are molecules that work to prevent damage that occurs in cells and body tissues due to both normal bodily processes and exposure to some chemicals. The potential medical benefit of antioxidants may reside in their ability to prevent or slow the oxidation of molecules in the microscopic parts of the body, such as DNA or proteins.
  • Oxidation is a chemical process in which electrons from a substance are transferred to what is known as an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions may produce substances referred to as "free radicals." These molecules may cause chain reactions that can damage many cells in the body. Antioxidants may stop the chain reactions caused by free radicals, and therefore stop the process of this sort of damage occurring in the body. In other cases, antioxidants may stop other kinds of oxidation reactions by becoming oxidized themselves and thus sparing cells and tissues from damage.
  • The reactions that produce free radicals, called oxidation reactions, are critical for the body to function. However, the cumulative effect of many oxidation reactions may irreversibly damage the body. The human body may require a variety of antioxidants to reduce the impact of the free radicals created by oxidation reactions. If the body has too few antioxidants, then the stress of many oxidation reactions may damage or kill body cells. If enough of these cells are killed or damaged, then illness or disease may result.
  • Free radicals are considered dangerous because they are atoms with an unstable number of electrons, which makes them more chemically reactive than atoms with a stable number of electrons. These unstable atoms may take electrons from other atoms, such as the ones that make up DNA or proteins. When parts of cells lose electrons, the cell cannot function as well as it should. If affected by free radicals, then DNA may be mutated. Proteins that are affected by free radicals may degrade or unfold. Antioxidants neutralize the electrical charge that free radicals have due to their unstable number of electrons and thus protect body cells and tissues.
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Diet

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Common Types and Sources of Food Based Antioxidants

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Theory/Evidence

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Integrative Therapies

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Safety

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.