Phone orders: 855-216-2777

BackWhat are Anti-Oxidants?

Anti-oxidants are your body's natural defense against free radicals, protecting your tissues and organs from oxidative damage by mopping them up before they come attack vulnerable cells.

Battling Free Radicals

A free radical is typically described as any molecule or atom with one or more electrons 'missing' from its outermost shell, meaning that its tendency is to steal an electron from another molecule or atom, or share it. Doing either of these things can be very destructive to a molecule that is fine just the way it is, such as one making up a fatty acid in your cell membrane. On the other hand, free-radicals are the basis of all life in that without chemical activity - i.e. chemical recombination of atoms and molecules - there would be no life.

The body's job is to actively encourage the biochemical reactions necessary for life, while using its anti-oxidant defenses to prevent any biochemical reaction to molecules in tissues that must be left alone. Our bodies are very capable of this, but for the latter job they employ a host of different anti-oxidants. These molecules typically sacrifice themselves by offering up an electron of their own and then either get it back from another anti-oxidant in a process referred to as the redox cycle, or are broken down by an enzyme (such as Glutathione or Superoxide Dismutase) into several harmless constituents.

To the degree that the body has enough anti-oxidants on hand, the damage is kept at bay. But if the anti-oxidant reserves are insufficient, the body slips into a state of oxidative stress. Dr. Phillip Miller, MD, founder and director of the Los Gatos Longevity Institute and member of the Life Extension Foundation Medical Advisory board, describes this state:

Oxidative stress begins at the molecular and cellular level, with free radical activity impairing cell membranes, DNA, enzymes, protein synthesis, and mitochondrial function. The damage quickly progresses to the structural and functional level, compromising blood vessels, nerve cells, skin, muscles, and organs. Eventually, the cumulative injuries lead to premature aging and chronic and degenerative disease.1

If you are young and your diet is inline with that under which we evolved, and your external exposure to toxins and reactive molecules (cleaners, pollutants, chlorine, pesticides...) is in line with the environment under which we evolved, then these anti-oxidant reserves should not be insufficient.2 The youthful, healthy body is equipped to handle all free radicals, but:
  • Anti-oxidant levels drop off as we age3
  • Our diet today is far from the one our bodies were designed for.
  • Our toxin exposure today is greater than what our bodies were designed to handle.

The Team of Anti-oxidants

Why are different anti-oxidants necessary? Your body relies on many different antioxidant compounds to protect its various cells and tissues from the many sources of free radical activity. Each antioxidant has unique sources, actions, pathways, and targets. Working together as a team, they provide a thorough defense. For a good discussion of how anti-oxidants work together 'juggling electrons' as a team, see this article.

Diet and Lifestyle

Making the following diet and lifestyle changes can help to reduce your free radical exposure:

  • Make organic vegetables a staple of your diet. Most plants employ a host of phytochemicals to fight oxidative stress themselves and our bodies evolved in an environment where it took advantage of these ready-made antioxidants.
  • Silent inflammation can generate free radicals.4 Click here for more information on silent inflammation and how to avoid it.
  • Avoid too much unprotected exposure to the sun, which causes free radical damage to the skin.5
  • Limit your exposure to toxins including those in tap water (particularly chlorine), non-organic foods, cleaning chemicals, oil, paint, etc. Use a shower filter to minimize chlorine absorption into the skin.
  • Eliminate fried and charred foods from your diet when practical. Frying and charring food oxidizes it, producing free radical precursors.
  • Store your oil in the refrigerator. Rancid oils are a major source of destructive free radicals in our diet. If you store the oil in the cupboard at room temperature, the oxidation process creates free radicals.

Measuring Oxidative Stress

Although not typically avilable through conventional physicians, oxidative stress testing describes a number of tests offered by many anti-aging specialists that can check for certain markers that indicate unchecked free radical activity.

More Information

  • For food sources for various anti-oxidants, see this article.
  • For a thorough discussion of some of the biochemistry behind anti-oxidants, see this wikipedia article


1. Smith, Jeremy. Renewal. Nov 1999. Page 17.

2. Miller, Phillip. The Life Extension Revolution. 2005. Pgs 162-163.

3. Lishnevskaia VI. The role of free radicals oxidation in the deterioration of haemovascular homeostasis in aging. Adv Gerontol. 2004;13:52-7.

4. R. A. Floyd. 1999. Neuroinflammatory processes are important in neurodegenerative diseases: an hypothesis to explain the increased formation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species as major factors involved in neurodegenerative disease development. Free Radic Biol Med. May;26(9-10):1346-1355

5. Haywood R, Wardman P, Sanders R, Linge C. Sunscreens inadequately protect against ultraviolet-A-induced free radicals in skin: implications for skin aging and melanoma? J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Oct;121(4):862-8.