How Do Antioxidants Work?

Nutrient Warriors Blasting Through Disease

The answer to the question “how do antioxidants work” is a wordy one. If you’re interested, you could go to a university, take a degree in nutrition and a few years later, you’ll probably have your answer.

However, if you were hoping for something simple and easy to understand, you’ve come to the right place.

Don’t know what antioxidants are? Have a read of Antioxidant Definition. The basic idea is that an antioxidant is “anti”-“oxidant”. They literally defend or fight against oxidation. Why the fuss over our little friends? They hold a giant key to preventing cancer and a variety of diseases.

How do antioxidants work? Let’s begin with free radicals.


A free radical is a chemical compound that contains one or more unpaired electrons. They are produced by a variety of things including:

  • cigarette smoke
  • alcohol
  • pollution
  • exposure to radiation from the sun (such as when you get sun burnt)
  • pesticides on foods consumed
  • junk food
  • and more…

Free radicals can also be produced within the body itself, such as when there is an incomplete reaction in the cells resulting in unpaired electrons.

The process by which a free radical is produced is called the initiation step. Think of it like an initiation into a gang or group, only the electron is doing an initiation into the outside world (the rest of your body).

In the natural world, electrons are usually paired. In free radicals however, they’re not (surprise, surprise). This means that free radicals are quite reactive and make it their mission to pair up their odd electron. Think of it like an electron dating game.

Unfortunately for us, when free radicals run about trying to pair up their electron they attack nearby chemical compounds. As you can imagine, if they attack and damage something which is important, your bodily performance is going to take a dive. The compounds they attack are usually involved in all sorts of important work such as conducting enzyme reactions or fulfilling their role as a component of a cell wall. In some cases, they may even be a part of a DNA molecule. When the chemical structure of these important compounds is changed, their function can be lost resulting in disease, infection and inflammation.

While this process occurs over a long period of time, there is a growing body of evidence that points to the benefits of antioxidants in reducing oxidative damage to body tissue.

A free radical can graciously give its electron to another molecule, cheekily steal one from another or can combine with another radical. The point where two radicals combine is called a termination step.

Enough about free radicals.. just tell me how do antioxidants work!


Antioxidants stop the oxidation process by neutralizing free radicals. They bind to free radicals and stop them from wreaking havoc inside our bodies. However, when this happens the antioxidants themselves become oxidized, which is why we need to constantly replenish ourselves with antioxidants.

Antioxidants work in two ways:

  1. Chain-breaking. Every time a free radical gives away or steals an electron, it creates another radical. This then becomes a chain reaction, generating more and more unstable molecules and continues until termination. An antioxidant such as beta-carotene or Vitamin C may be responsible for stabilizing a free radical however the free radical can and sometimes will simply decay into a harmless product.
  2. Preventing. Antioxidant enzymes including superoxide dismutase and catalase can prevent oxidation by minimizing instances of chain initiation. They can literally prevent the oxidation process before it begins.

Turning how do antioxidants work into something practical.


Juice up a storm and fill your body with all those wonderful antioxidants. You will not only be healing yourself, you will also be preventing yourself from getting sick in the first place.

Also, strive to get a wide variety. While pondering specific antioxidants can be helpful at times, you will get the best results by eating an antioxidant diet. Maximize fresh fruits and vegetables and minimize anything likely to oxidize.

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