What Do Antioxidants Do For Us?

What Do Antioxidants Do For Us?

Antioxidants have been widely marketed for some time now, but many folks out there are left wondering what they are and what exactly they do for us. These tiny little molecules have made their way to the forefront of preventive healthcare and became a household name for good reason: their disease-fighting properties. Much research has been done on the benefits of antioxidants giving them a solid place in many health, wellness, and nutritional circles.

Antioxidants come from a variety of sources and can be used for numerous nutritional and wellness purposes. Understanding precisely what antioxidants are and how they play a role in preventive nutrition can help determine if this is something that may be beneficial.  Also, knowing what they do for us and how to incorporate them into a solid nutritional plan can be a valuable addition to any health and wellness strategy.

Familiarizing oneself with both the benefits and precautions of supplementing your diet with antioxidants is a good place to start if you’re thinking of adding antioxidants to your regular wellness routine. It’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare provider before diving into any new health or wellness approach to make sure you are on the right track.

What are antioxidants?

According to the National Library of Medicine, antioxidants are molecules that naturally occur in the body and some plant-based foods; they are also manufactured in a multitude of different forms like supplements, tinctures and topicals to name a few. Things like beta-carotene, lutein, and Vitamins A, C, and E are some examples of antioxidants that can be found in certain foods and supplements. 

The naturally occurring antioxidants found in the body protect us against oxidation; hence the name “anti” oxidants. The job of these naturally occurring antioxidants is to counteract oxidative stress. Oxidative stress comes from things like cigarette smoke, sunlight, and pollution and can unleash potentially harmful cell-damaging free radicals into the body. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the number of free radicals and the body’s ability to fight them off.

When the body is experiencing oxidative stress as a result of free radicals, healthy cells in the body may become damaged and potentially play a role in diseases like diabetes, Alzhiemer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease. Since antioxidants protect us from these free radicals, maintaining a healthy amount may prevent cell damage caused when these free radicals run loose inside the body

Natural Antioxidants from Plant-Based Foods

Antioxidants occur naturally in the body but they are also found in a variety of plant-based foods. Foods that contain beta-carotene, lutein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, lycopene, flavonoids, and selenium are just a few of the naturally occurring substances that act as antioxidants in the body. 

There are definitely plenty of natural sources of antioxidants out there to choose from. Foods like tomatoes, artichokes, beans, and dark leafy greens are high in antioxidants as well as fruits like berries, cherries, apples, and grapes. Other good sources of antioxidants are whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Some of the more unlikely sources of antioxidants include cocoa, coffee, tea, herbs, and spices. Red wine is another powerful source of antioxidants.

Eating foods that are high in antioxidants may help keep those pesky free radicals at bay as well as provide other nutrients the body needs to feel healthy and energetic. If you are incorporating a plethora of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds into your diet already, you’re likely ahead of the game when it comes to keeping a healthy balance of free radicals.

Man-Made Antioxidants

Man-made, or “manufactured” antioxidants refer to all the other sources of antioxidants found out there that are not naturally occurring in the body or found in plant-based food. This includes things like supplements, tinctures, balms, oils, lotions, and so on. These man-made antioxidants can be used for an assortment of health, nutritional and wellness purposes for things such as immunity boosting and skincare.


Antioxidants can be found in many nutritional supplements like multivitamin capsules and immune boosting powders like Emergen-C. These can be used to supplement the body’s nutrients, enhance the body’s immune system, or as a preventative care regimen. Many times, if you look at the nutritional information on the supplements you are taking, you’ll likely find they contain ingredients with antioxidant properties, especially if they contain Vitamins A, C, or E.


A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract made from herbs or other plants and is one of the oldest forms of medicine. The plants are soaked in alcohol or vinegar to extract the medicinal properties and then manufactured into a liquid form. Many of these tinctures contain powerful antioxidant ingredients that have been extracted from plants, like pure CBD oil. Tinctures are usually taken orally with a dropper.


A topical is just a fancy way of referring to an ointment or medicine that is applied to the top of the skin. Topicals containing antioxidants come in a variety of forms. There are topicals like lotions and creams and also ointments like salves and balms. There are a million different options out there serving a variety of functions from treating inflammation to relieving irritated skin.

Why Take Antioxidants?

The most common reason people take antioxidants is to counteract the cell-damaging effects of free radicals which can cause cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, and a slew of other conditions. Current research also shows promising results in the areas of eye care and skin care; in particular, age-related macular degeneration and counteracting the natural effects of skin aging.

Antioxidants for Vision Care

Some of the most promising research studies out there are in the area of vision and age-related macular degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration (also referred to as AMD) is one of the most common causes of vision loss in adults over the age of 50 years old. AMD is a condition that affects central vision and can make things appear blurry. Age-related macular degeneration happens when the macular area of the eye wears down causing blurry vision.

There are 2 kinds of Age-related macular degeneration, wet and dry. Evidence shows that supplementing with antioxidants may slow the progression of the dry type of age-related macular degeneration in established cases that are becoming severe. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E can also help ward off cataracts.

Antioxidants for Beauty and Skincare

Antioxidants made their debut in the skincare market a while ago and they are still going strong.  There is proven research backing their ability to fight free radicals on a surface level as well as inside the body.

Just like oxidative stress occurs from breathing in harmful things like cigarette smoke and pollution, the same harmful components may be affecting the surface of the skin. You’ve likely seen products out there touting the benefits of Vitamin C on aging skin. Antioxidant-rich skincare products are used for things like increasing elasticity and minimizing signs of aging.

Too Much May Not be a Good Thing

While there is plenty of evidence backing the benefits of antioxidants, there is also some research indicating that too many antioxidants may be harmful to individuals in certain categories. For example, a smoker or someone who has been exposed to asbestos who takes high dose supplements containing beta-carotene may actually increase their risk of lung cancer.

Some reports suggest that taking more than the daily recommended dose of supplements containing antioxidants may have the reverse effect on attempts to thwart the cell-damaging free radicals. This research suggests it can happen more often when there are high levels of one particular type of antioxidant like vitamin C for instance, this could then cause oxidative stress.

Most agree that too much of anything can’t be a good thing and this may be true in the case of antioxidants too. The bottom line is, that if you plan on starting any kind of supplement regime, it’s essential to consult a health care provider or medical professional for the best approach.

Some Food for Thought

In a nutshell, it’s important to know the facts about antioxidants and what they can and cannot do. It’s ultimately up to each individual and their healthcare provider to decide whether or not they need to increase their intake for health, well-being, or cosmetic reasons. It’s always a good idea to eat a healthy diet laden with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for obvious reasons, but adding a supplement or two that contain ingredients with antioxidants may have even greater benefits. 

Whether you decide to try some new recipes with organic goji berries for an antioxidant-packed snack or add a Vitamin C-enriched cream to your current skincare routine, you’re bound to find new ways of incorporating them. While excessive amounts of antioxidants may not prove helpful, there’s plenty of research out there backing the potential benefits of these tiny little soldiers that live in the body.

About The Author:

Laura Henry is a writer and editor with a passion for alternative health products and practices. When they’re not outside with their rescue dog, they spend their time exploring local wellness/new age spaces and practicing yoga.