What Are Antioxidants and Why Do We Need Them?

What are Antioxidants and Why Do We Need Them

22nd October 2015

By Lorraine Ereira

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Antioxidants. We hear about them all the time. “Eat your berries and your greens because they are full of antioxidants.” But what are these compounds that are claimed to have a wealth of benefits to the body? And how do they work?

Before we explore these fascinating molecules, let’s discuss their rival — the free radical. Free radicals are highly reactive unstable oxygen molecules that contain an unpaired electron. They seek electrons from other cells to become stable. They are formed as a waste product of oxygen, and become a problem when there are more free radicals in the body than the antioxidants — which provide that spare electron — can deal with. The job of the antioxidant is to “clean up” or more specifically neutralize the free radicals, slowing or preventing oxidative damage. If free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress follows.

But free radicals are not all bad. In fact they can help the body to fight viruses, bacteria and toxins! For example, Leucocytes (white blood cells) produce free radicals to kill such pathogens. It is when free radical production outside of normal metabolic processes takes place that we suffer oxidative stress, for example, toxins, injury, infection, extreme sun exposure, stress, radiation, and excessive exercise.

Oxidative stress can harm the cells causing damage and cell death. When this happens we are exposed to premature ageing, inflammation and degenerative diseases such as cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and arteriosclerosis.

So, back to antioxidants…

The term antioxidant is really more of a chemical property, referring to its ability to act as an electron donor to free radicals. Each one has a unique chemical behavior and properties of their own. This means we need to make a range of them available to the body. Some of them are produced naturally in the body through the metabolism such as glutathione, ubiquinol, melatonin and uric acid, as part of normal metabolism, and others are found in the diet, the most well-known ones being Vitamins E, C and B-carotene.

However as we age even those normally produced by the body become diminished, and we become more vulnerable to disease.

Nonetheless taking antioxidants in large quantities from artificial means has not shown great success in clinical trials. Antioxidants should be taken in their natural form or produced by the body, for their best defense against disease.

An organic diet rich in fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and green tea will provide a rich natural source of powerful antioxidants that cannot be made by in the cells.


  1. http://www.takethemagicstep.com/coaching/beginners/nutrition/nutrition-free-radicals-naughty-or-nice/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/
  3. http://michelle-honda-blog.renewyou.ca/are-free-radicals-really-the-enemy-3-of-5/
  4. http://www.exrx.net/Nutrition/Antioxidants/Introduction.html
  5. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/

Previous article by Lorraine:

About the author:

Lorraine Ereira is a writer and a Sports  Therapist with a keen interest in nutrition and healthy living. Lorraine cared for her husband who was diagnosed with cancer last year, but with good nutrition and healthy living has made a full recovery. It is now Lorraine’s mission to share the positive aspects of her experience with others who wish to life a healthy and low toxic lifestyle.

Her first novel Journey From the Summit, a true story, was published earlier this year, followed by her recent publication Sports Pattern Release, a guide for manual therapists working in sport. Lorraine  is currently writing her second novel about how she coped with her husband’s illness, and how making well researched and informed choices helped him on the path to his recovery.

Connect with Lorraine at  CoreFit-UK.co.uk and Facebook.com/OPFsportstherapy.


If you've ever found value in our articles, we'd greatly appreciate your support by purchasing Mindful Meditation Techniques for Kids - A Practical Guide for Adults to Empower Kids with the Gift of Inner Peace and Resilience for Life.

In the spirit of mindfulness, we encourage you to choose the paperback version. Delve into its pages away from screen glare and notifications, allowing yourself to fully immerse in the transformative practices within. The physical book enriches the learning process and serves as a tangible commitment to mindfulness, easily shared among family and friends.

Over the past few years, Wake Up World has faced significant online censorship, impacting our financial ability to stay online. Instead of soliciting donations, we're exploring win-win solutions with our readers to remain financially viable. Moving into book publishing, we hope to secure ongoing funds to continue our mission. With over 8,500 articles published in the past 13 years, we are committed to keeping our content free and accessible to everyone, without resorting to a paywall.