Antioxidants: What Vitamins C and E Can Do For Your Body

By: Ashley Reaver, RD

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Antioxidants—we’ve heard the term over and over in the health and longevity spheres, but what are they, where can we find them, and why are they so important? Several of our food and supplement recommendations are geared towards increasing your intake of antioxidants; particularly vitamins A, C, and E. The benefits of wine and dark chocolate are also buoyed by their antioxidant content. For this blog, we’ll focus on two antioxidants in particular, Vitamins C and E.

Let’s start with antioxidants

First the science, then we’ll use a real life example to simplify the concept.

By definition, an antioxidant is a compound that stops the oxidation of another compound. Oxidation is a naturally occurring, chemical process that causes the loss of electrons. A compound that has been oxidized is called a free radical. It is very reactive—meaning that it wants to connect to another compound as quickly as possible.

Some free radicals are produced from essential processes for survival, like ones from the metabolism of oxygen called reactive oxidative species. Others are produced as part of a plan in chemical reactions, where the next step of the reaction quickly converts the free radical to something else. Still, others may be produced from breaking down harmful environmental factors, such as ingredients in cigarettes. Free radicals that don’t have a scripted next step are the ones that are most damaging to our bodies. Here’s where antioxidants come in. They can either immediately neutralize free radicals, or they can interfere with the free radical’s path of destruction and prevent or reduce the amount of damage.

Now the metaphor: let’s use a race junkie to explain it.

We’ll call our race junkie Fred. Fred loves having a race on his calendar. He loves having a goal to train for and the feelings of accomplishment when he finishes a race. But, once the afterglow of the race fades, if Fred doesn’t have another race on the calendar, he feels lost. Fred is in his “free radical state”. To feel whole again Fred quickly signs up for another race. The race he picks might not be the best decision, maybe it’s too expensive or maybe he won’t be able to train enough, but he isn’t thinking about consequences—and it ultimately ends badly for him. Fred needed an antioxidant in his free radical state, a supportive partner or friend to help him think rationally and steer him in a better direction—someone like vitamin C.

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