Antioxidants and Detoxification

Antioxidants can cancel out the cell-damaging effects of free radicals. People who eat fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of antioxidants, have a lower risk of heart disease and some neurological diseases, and there is evidence that some types of vegetables, and fruits in general, probably protect against a number of cancers. These observations suggested that antioxidants might help prevent these conditions. There is some evidence that antioxidants might help prevent diseases such as macular degeneration, suppressed immunity due to poor nutrition, and neurodegeneration.

What is an Antioxidant?

The term "antioxidants" sounds complicated, but is actually easy to understand. "Anti" means "against," and "oxidants" are reactive substances that take electrons from other substances, that is, free radicals.

"Oxidant" comes from the word "oxygen." Leave oils and meats outside too long and they become rancid. Rancidity involves oxidants in a process called oxidation, which is the reaction of oxygen with fatty acids and proteins to form free radicals, eventually causing spoilage. Rusting is another example of oxidation; oxygen reacts with iron to form a weak, flaky substance, ferrous oxide, or rust. So, oxidation, rancidity, spoilage, and burning describe the same thing: free-radical destruction. In fact, knowledge of free radicals began in the 1930s when Leonor Micaelis, chemist at the Rockefeller Institute, puzzled over the reason why oils turn rancid. His discoveries were provocative at the time and spurred tremendous interest in the roles free radicals play in life.

Thus, an antioxidant fights damaging oxidation by neutralizing the free radicals which cause it. A free radical has an unpaired electron. An antioxidant can supply the missing electron or remove an extra one to stabilize the free radical. The antioxidant then technically becomes a free radical, but thanks to its structure, it is many times less reactive than the original free radical and will not damage other molecules. In terms of free radicals, the buck stops with antioxidants. Further biochemical processes complete the antioxidant process, and a free radical is safely extinguished.

Here is a comprehensive list of vitamins, herbs, foods and other compounds that contain antioxidants:

Vitamins and Minerals

* Vitamin A (retinol), also synthesized by the body from beta-carotene, protects dark green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits from solar radiation damage, and is thought to play a similar role in the human body. Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (which gain their color from the compound lycopene), kale, seabuckthorn, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots are particularly rich sources of beta-carotene.

* Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble compound that fulfills several roles in living systems. Important sources include citrus fruits (such as oranges, sweet lime, etc.), green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, black currants, strawberries, blueberries, seabuckthorn, raw cabbage and tomatoes. Linus Pauling was a major advocate for its use.

* Vitamin E, including tocotrienol and tocopherol, is fat soluble and protects lipids. Sources include wheat germ, seabuckthorn, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil, and fish-liver oil. Alpha-tocopherol is the main form in which vitamin E is consumed. Recent studies showed that some tocotrienol isomers have significant anti-oxidant properties.

* Zinc, is one of the most common mineral deficiencies. Best Bet Food Sources: Raw, hulled pumpkin seeds and other nuts, oatmeal, eggs, parsley, wheat germ

* Selenium has become a central topic of discussion in the debate on trace elements in which some doctors have dismissed the mineral as humbug, while others recommend it as a valuable component in preventative medicine, or even prescribe it as part of a course of treatment. Veterinary surgeons, on the other hand, have been using adjunct selenium therapy for many years.

* Soy & Isoflavones. Research suggests that soy may offer a number of health benefits related to menopause symptom relief, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, immunity and cancer

* Coenzyme Q10

* Manganese

* Iodide

* Melatonin


* Lycopene - found in high concentration in ripe red tomatoes.

* Lutein - found in high concentration in spinach and red peppers.

* Alpha-carotene

* Beta-carotene - found in high concentrations in butternut squash, carrots, orange bell peppers, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.

* Zeaxanthin - the main pigment found in yellow corn.

* Astaxanthin - found naturally in red algae and animals higher in the marine food chain. It is a red pigment familiarly recognized in crustacean shells and salmon flesh/roe.


* Ellagic acid - found in high concentration in raspberry and strawberry, and in ester form in red wine tannins.

* Gallic acid - found in gallnuts, sumac, witch hazel, tea leaves, oak bark, and many other plants.

* Salicylic acid - found in most vegetables, fruits, and herbs; but most abundantly in the bark of willow trees, from where it was extracted for use in the early manufacture of aspirin.

* Rosmarinic acid - found in high concentration in rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and marjoram.

* Cinnamic acid and its derivatives, such as ferulic acid - found in seeds of plants such as in brown rice, whole wheat and oats, as well as in coffee, apple, artichoke, peanut, orange and pineapple.

* Chlorogenic acid - found in high concentration in coffee

* Chicoric acid - another caffeic acid derivative, is found only in the popular medicinal herb Echinacea purpurea.

Other organic antioxidants

* Citric acid, oxalic acid, and phytic acid

* Lignan - antioxidant and phytoestrogen found in oats, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, rye, soybeans, broccoli, beans, and some berries.

* Bilirubin, a breakdown product of blood, has been identified as a possibly significant antioxidant.

Spices and Herbs

* Cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic, coriander, onion and cardamom. Typical herbs are sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil and dill weed.

The free-radical defenses, the antioxidants continually protect us from the destructive actions of free radicals. Let's focus on the four antioxidant nutrients (beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) that are the most promising for medical therapy.


* Cranberries, blueberries, plums, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, apples, strawberries, red currants, figs, cherries, gooseberry, pears, guava, peaches, oranges, apricots, mango, grape juice and pomegranate

* Dried: pears, apples, plums, peaches, raisins, figs and dates.


* Artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, potato and raw lettuce and frozen spinach.

In the body, many kinds of antioxidants protect us, including enzymes, nutrients, amino acids, proteins, and other biochemicals.

Antioxidant enzymes

The antioxidant enzymes are synthesized in the body. They initiate processes which ultimately channel the excessive, damaging energies of free radicals into producing harmless substances such as water and ordinary oxygen. These enzymes include.

* glutathione peroxidase
* catalase
* superoxide dismutase

They are produced and function in most cells of the body. In every sense, they are a part of us. Without their protective activity, we would quickly become, quite literally, spoiled. In fact, the reason why dead flesh rots so quickly is that these enzymes no longer function.

The body usually reacts to the presence of increased free radicals by increasing antioxidant enzyme production. For instance, trained athletes usually have higher levels of antioxidant enzymes than most people. Their bodies have adjusted to deal with the extra free radicals from the increased metabolism of strenuous exercise. However, the stress of the modern lifestyle and the toxic by-products of technology have increased the free radical load we all must deal with. Air pollution, industrial waste, pesticide and herbicide residues, and many other sources produce free radicals that did not plague previous generations. Thus, the ability of our bodies to produce sufficient antioxidant enzymes may be stressed and may become insufficient.

Other antioxidants

Other classes of antioxidant substances exist. Synthetic antioxidants such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), butylated hydroxyanisole (BRA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used as pharmaceutical agents and food preservatives. Other natural antioxidants include sulfur-containing amino acids and proteins (e.g., cysteine and glutathione), uric acid, and numerous substances derived from herbs.

Antioxidant nutrients

The antioxidant nutrients most capable of fighting free radicals are:

* beta carotene (provitamin A)
* vitamin C
* vitamin E
* and the mineral selenium

Unlike the enzymes, antioxidant nutrients are not made in the body but are richly supplied in such foods as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. After being absorbed during digestion, they travel in the bloodstream and localize in all the cells and organs to neutralize free radicals. In the process of quenching free radicals, antioxidant nutrients are inactivated, though some may be reactivated, and are eventually eliminated from the body. Thus, they need to be constantly replenished through the diet, just as calories are constantly needed to sustain energy.

The antioxidant nutrients function together as a team to quench free radicals, often in conjunction with other classes of antioxidants, such as the enzymes. One antioxidant does not function in isolation, but each is a part of intricate biochemical chains, like bucket brigades set up to put out fires caused by free radicals. At the same time, each is distinct in chemical structure and nature, and functions in many specialized roles other than that of being an antioxidant.

Related information:

Nutritional Support
Vitamins & Supplements
Supplements for Detox
Herbs for Detox Support
A List of Herbs
Essential Fatty Acids
Free Radicals
The Acai Berry