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Antioxidants, nature and chemistry

Submitted by Dr. Tamer Fouad, M.D.

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Antioxidants are substances that protect other chemicals of the body from damaging oxidation reactions


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  Free radicals
Oxidative mechanisms in carcinogenesis

In the aerobic environment, the most dangerous by product are the species of reactive oxygen. The role of antioxidants is to detoxify reactive oxygen intermediates (ROI) in the body. Over the past several years, nutritional antioxidants have attracted considerable interest in the popular press as potential treatment for a wide variety of disease states, including cancer and other causes e.g. atherosclerosis, chronic inflammatory diseases and aging (Delany L. 1993).


An antioxidant is a substance that when present in low concentrations relative to the oxidizable substrate significantly delays or reduces oxidation of the substrate (Halliwell, 1995).

Antioxidants get their name because they combat oxidation. They are substances that protect other chemicals of the body from damaging oxidation reactions by reacting with free radicals and other reactive oxygen species within the body, hence hindering the process of oxidation. During this reaction the antioxidant sacrifices itself by becoming oxidized. However, antioxidant supply is not unlimited as one antioxidant molecule can only react with a single free radical. Therefore, there is a constant need to replenish antioxidant resources, whether endogenously or through supplementation.

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