What Are Antioxidants?

​They can defend against damaging free radicals

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Dermveda Content Team ,

Surrounding us at all times there are chemical reactions happening. One of the common types of reactions is called redox reactions, in which something reacts with oxygen. When this happens, free radicals can be created, which are substances that easily steal electrons from other molecules. Outside of our bodies, redox reactions lead to things like rust, decay, spoiling food, fire, and explosions. Inside our bodies, redox reactions are involved in beneficial processes like immunity, digestion, and respiration (breathing), but they can also be involved in harmful processes that lead to cell damage. Free radicals have been correlated with heart disease, atherosclerosis, cataracts, certain cancers, and skin aging.

Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun is known to lead to oxidative damage within the connective tissue of the skin and can lead to wrinkles.[1,2] Other things known to worsen oxidative damage include smoking,[3] outdoor pollutants,[4] high meat intake,[5] and chemicals used in household and agricultural products.[6]

Antioxidants are substances that are known to neutralize free radicals within the body. They can reduce and possibly reverse the damage caused by oxidation. One study suggests that antioxidant use, both orally and topically, can improve skin elasticity, thickness, moisture content, and can possibly counteract the extrinsic process of skin aging.[7]

Sources of antioxidants include:

  • Supplements like coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10),[8] N-acetyl cysteine (NAC),[9] resveratrol,[10] lutein, lycopene, selenium
  • Plant-sourced molecules such as carotenoids[11] found in carrots and curcumin[12] found in turmeric
  • Foods including soybeans,[13] pomegranates,[14] grapes,[15] red wine, and berries[16]
  • Vitamins such as A, C,[17] and E
  • Some herbs[18,19]

It is also possible that antioxidant supplementation could be harmful. Although no solid evidence exists, it has been hypothesized that antioxidants can increase the risk of atopic diseases such as asthma and allergies.[20,21] Also, a study from 2009 in the journal of Cancer found that antioxidant supplementation might reduce the effects of chemotherapy in patients with cancer.[22] 

It is ideal to get antioxidants from whole food sources, but supplementation is also possible. Always consult with a licensed healthcare professional before using any supplement.


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  10. Soeur J, Eilstein J, Lereaux G, et al. Skin resistance to oxidative stress induced by resveratrol: from Nrf2 activation to GSH biosynthesis. Free Radic Biol Med.2015;78:213-223; PMID: 25451641.
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  12. Marchiani A, Rozzo C, Fadda A, et al. Curcumin and curcumin-like molecules: from spice to drugs. Curr Med Chem.2014;21(2):204-222; PMID: 23590716.
  13. Huang CC, Hsu BY, Wu NL, et al. Anti-photoaging effects of soy isoflavone extract (aglycone and acetylglucoside form) from soybean cake. Int J Mol Sci.2010;11(12):4782-4795; PMID: 21614173.
  14. Shaygannia E, Bahmani M, Zamanzad B, et al. A Review Study on Punica granatum L. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med.2015;10.1177/2156587215598039PMID: 26232244.
  15. Xu C, Yagiz Y, Zhao L, et al. Fruit quality, nutraceutical and antimicrobial properties of 58 muscadine grape varieties (Vitis rotundifolia Michx.) grown in United States. Food Chem.2017;215:149-156; PMID: 27542461.
  16. Wang Y, Zhao L, Wang D, et al. Anthocyanin-rich extracts from blackberry, wild blueberry, strawberry, and chokeberry: antioxidant activity and inhibitory effect on oleic acid-induced hepatic steatosis in vitro. J Sci Food Agric.2016;96(7):2494-2503; PMID: 26250597.
  17. Padayatty SJ, Katz A, Wang Y, et al. Vitamin C as an antioxidant: evaluation of its role in disease prevention. J Am Coll Nutr.2003;22(1):18-35; PMID: 12569111.
  18. Park G, Kim TM, Kim JH, et al. Antioxidant effects of the sarsaparilla via scavenging of reactive oxygen species and induction of antioxidant enzymes in human dermal fibroblasts. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol.2014;38(1):305-315; PMID: 25022355.
  19. Mizutani T, Masaki H. Anti-photoaging capability of antioxidant extract from Camellia japonica leaf. Exp Dermatol.2014;23 Suppl 1:23-26; PMID: 25234832.
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