Antioxidants are substances that may neutralize free radicals in the body
Free radicals in the body can have an impact on cells
Some antioxidants are Vitamins A, C and E and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein
A diet rich in antioxidant foods—especially fruits and vegetables—can help minimize this impact
By now, you may have read the hype about antioxidants and you know they’re good for you. You may also know that “free radicals” are somehow involved. But sometimes it feels like you need a college degree in science or nutrition to understand the complexities of it all. What are antioxidants? What do antioxidants do and how do they benefit your health? And what foods contain antioxidants?
Let’s break it all down for you.
What Are Antioxidants?
In a nutshell, the term antioxidant means substances that may effect some cells. These substances can occur naturally in your bodyor be man-made. So, what do antioxidants do? They help to neutralize free radicals caused by oxygen (known as oxidative damage). Among the many things that can cause oxidative damage are free radicals. But exactly what are free radicals?
What Are Free Radicals In The Body?
To understand what a free radical is, you need to know that many internal body processes occur (such as converting food into energy) and they require oxygen. The byproducts of using oxygen are called oxidants (often called “free radicals”), which are very unstable molecules. What do free radicals do? On the positive side, they do play an important role in many normal cellular processes. But at high concentrations, free radicals may have an impact on cells, including DNA, proteins, and cell membranes.1 (For a more tangible comparison, think of how oxidants can cause rust on a car.) Free radicals can cause oxidative stress.
Note that free radicals are also formed in our body from exposure to the environment such as from air pollution, cigarette smoke, and even ultraviolet light from the sun.
What are the benefits of antioxidants? Well, remember how antioxidants help neutralize free radicals caused by oxygen? They do this by “neutralizing) free radicals. How? Antioxidants bind to oxidants, blocking the impact from occurring in the first place. They’re like superheroes!
What Vitamins and Other Nutrients Are Antioxidants?
Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of the power of antioxidants, you might be wondering more specifically what vitamins are antioxidants? Helping to support healthy cells from free radical, the antioxidants list include Vitamins A, C, and E, and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. They’re found abundantly in fruits and vegetables. If you’re looking for extra antioxidant support, consider taking a herbal supplement like a turmeric curcumin supplement.
With roughly 600 carotenoids in foods, the antioxidant powerhouses include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Beta-carotene: As an important nutrient, beta-carotene is known as provitamin A (which means your body uses it to make Vitamin A) and it’s only found in plants. (Vitamin A from animal sources is called preformed Vitamin A.) Beta-carotene works together with Vitamin A to support the reproductive system and maintain healthy skin, eyes, and immune system.4
Lutein: Related to beta-carotene and Vitamin A, Lutein is a carotenoid and this key nutrient helps support eye function and healthy vision.5
Lycopene: This naturally occurring carotenoid gives fruits and vegetables a reddish color.6
Selenium: As a key mineral, selenium plays an important role in reproduction, thyroid gland function, and DNA production.7
Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin plays an important role in supporting your immune system, vision, reproduction, and cell function. Vitamin A also helps support the functioning of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.8
Vitamin C: As one of the most powerful antioxidants, Vitamin C helps support a healthy immune system. This water-soluble vitamin also plays an important role in making collagen, a protein required to help support skin structure, , and helps with the absorption of iron from plant-based foods.9
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role as an antioxidant and can help support the immune system. This essential nutrient also helps support healthy blood vessels as well as support cell health.10
So, what are antioxidants good for? They help support you from the effects of free radicals. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants means including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your daily meals and snacks. If you don’t eat a balanced, healthy diet, you might consider taking antioxidant supplements such as Vitamin C, or Vitamin E.† Talk with your doctor before using supplements.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.
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